Holocaust

2016 Reading List #69: Playing for Time, by Arthur Miller

My journey through Arthur Miller’s collected works is nearly complete!

After finishing Playing for Time, I just have four more plays to read of Miller’s, so I’m trying my best to keep myself from scrambling through them at the end of the year.

Playing for Time was a different experience from many of Miller’s other works because it’s actually a screenplay for a TV movie (I didn’t know this until I’d already started reading). Miller won an Emmy award for his writing, and the film won several other Emmys as well.

Playing for Time is based on the true story of Fania Fénelon, a French singer sent to Auschwitz during the Holocaust. Because she’s a singer, Fénelon’s life is spared so she can join the camp’s orchestra, but the musicians are only kept alive as long as the please the SS officers running the camp.

The story here is miraculous, but as it’s a screenplay, I imagine I would have gotten more from the work if I was seeing it. There are lots of details that I imagine play better visually than just reading them on a page, so I sometimes felt a bit distanced from the work.

For now, I think I’ll take a quick break from Miller to finish the only other current reading project I have (an accomplishment, since I was reading 4 books at the beginning of last week), Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. After this, I’ll likely return to Miller to read another play or two so I can cross this goal off my list some time in December.

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Book #66: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne

I first encountered The Boy in the Striped Pajamas via the book’s film adaptation, though I’d known of the book’s existence for some time. Since I knew the story already, I guess I only have myself to blame for the emotional turmoil I’ve inflicted upon myself.

As the back cover of my copy of the book says, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a story about a nine-year-old boy named Bruno, but this is not a book for nine-year-olds.

Bruno is a young boy living in Berlin in the early 1940s, a clear indicator of what larger conflict will put the book’s action into motion. Through Bruno’s naive sensibilities, we learn that he’s the son of an important Nazi soldier sent to command Auschwitz (which Bruno mistakenly calls “Out-With”).

Bruno, a lover of adventure and stories from the Middle Ages, is an explorer at heart, and after feeling lonely in his new home, is delighted to meet a boy his age who lived on the other side of a fence.

The fact that the story is so innocently told from Bruno’s perspective adds something fresh to a familiarly desolate Holocaust narrative. Bruno doesn’t understand what happens at Auschwitz or what it means to be Jewish, and this ignorance is what makes the story ultimately all the more tragic.

And because I’m apparently in a particularly cruel mood today, I also spent the better part of this afternoon watching Schindler’s List for the first time (not exactly a holiday favorite, but a great movie none-the-less). It was interesting to note the parallels between the two narratives, especially because of the starkly different perspectives. Both a tragedies worth experiencing if for no other reason than to see a horror that we can only hope will never be repeated.

So now that I’ve finished my unofficial Holocaust entertainment unit, I’m moving on to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first nobel, This Side of Paradise, which could be my last read of 2015.

Look for my post on my favorite reading projects of the year in the coming days!