Title: Playing for the Commandant
Author: Suzy Zail
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Published Date: October 14th 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA, WWII
Page Count: 256
My Rating: ★ ★ ★.75
A young Jewish
pianist at Auschwitz, desperate to save her family, is chosen to play at
the camp commandant's house. How could she know she would fall in love
with the wrong boy?
These are Hanna's father's parting
words to her and her sister when their family is separated at the gates
of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Her father's words -- and a
black C-sharp piano key hidden away in the folds of her dress -- are
all that she has left to remind her of life before. Before, Hanna was
going to be a famous concert pianist. She was going to wear her yellow
dress to a dance. And she was going to dance with a boy. But then the
Nazis came. Now it is up to Hanna to do all she can to keep her mother
and sister alive, even if that means playing piano for the commandant
and his guests. Staying alive isn't supposed to include falling in love
with the commandant's son. But Karl Jager is beautiful, and his
aloofness belies a secret. And war makes you do dangerous things.
MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
"It didn't make any sense. They couldn't be kicking us out of the ghetto. It was their idea to create it, their idea to crum us inside its claustrophobic walls. We'd done everything they'd asked of us. We'd painted yellow stars on our apartment buildings, we'd obeyed curfew, we didn't take buses or use the telephone. I wasn't a troublemaker. I was a straight-A student. I'd won a scholarship to the Budapest Conservatorium of Music. I was smart. I was talented."
First I would like to say that I am very happy they changed the title of this book. (It was called The wrong boy.)
while there was a romance in this story you don't see much of it until
the end and it happened so gradually that it wasn't that surprising when
Now onto the review....
Hannah Mendel wants to
be just like her idol Clara Schumann, she tries to replicate everything
Clara has done in her music life even if it is just recreating it in
the town that she lives in. Hannah is very talented, so talented that
even though it will get her teacher arrested she still comes and
teachers her piano and insists that she keep playing no matter what.
Hannah is extremely dedicated and is sure that once the war is over that
she will be able to be just like Clara. That is until the family gets
forced out of their home and sent to the train yard where they live, for
several days. That's when Hannah starts realizing that things aren't
going to get better, and that she might not be able to do what, her idol
Hannah is extremely naive mostly due to her family protecting her so much and just making sure that she stays focused on her piano playing.
Once her family gets to Auschwitz and they are separated from her father, and Hannah quickly realizes that this isn't going to be like what they have heard from others. When she sees a familiar face in the crowd she goes to them and they help her get an opportunity to play for the Commandant in his home.
Hannah gets the position and then lives in fear every day that she will
do something to make him made or upset him and he will kill her. The perk
to working at the Commandant's house though is that if he isn't home
she can practice as much as she wants and as long as she isn't caught
she can take enough food for herself and her family.
Now for the romance. When Hannah first sees Karl she is afraid of
him. But slowly as she gets to see how he acts and shows compassion for
the other Jews working in the house she knows that he isn't like his
father. Slowly Karl starts to "befriend" Hannah, he saves her several
times from his father and makes sure that she always has something to
eat when he can. Karl is nothing like his father, but yet he is also
somewhat afraid of his father I think and just wants his father to show
some interest in him.
Throughout the book you get to see that
Karl is very lonely and he wants life to go back to how it was before
the war that is something that they have in common.
One thing that surprised me about Hannah and Karl was that she never hated him or blamed him for his father's actions and
what his father was doing to her family and the other prisoners. (Mostly
because up until the end she didn't truly realize how different things
were from what she thought.)
"When they look at you, they don't see a girl who hands her homework in on time. They don't care that you wake at six every morning to practice piano. They don't see a concert pianist when they see you- They see a Jew."