The Savior: Book Review

The Savior is the debut novel written by Eugene Drucker, the founding member of the renowned Emerson String Quartet.   It is a fictional Holocaust story, but what it depicts is not far-fetched.  Based on his father Ernst Drucker’s experience as a violinist in Germany during the 1930’s, and mingled with his own performing episodes in hospital wards and infirmaries, Drucker has created a riveting and believable narrative. Most importantly, he has packed into the short 204 pages some questions that humanity has long found impossible to solve, the problem of human depravity and personal redemption.

In the book, the protagonist Gottfried Keller is a young German violinist during WWII. Due to a weak heart, he cannot serve his country in the front line, but he is drafted into the Nazi war machine by the SS for an experiment in a Holocaust death camp. Under the cultured yet ruthless Kommandant, Keller is to play four solo violin concerts to selective Jewish prisoners. The expressed purpose is to test whether music has the power to revive languishing souls.

As I read the summary on the book cover, the image of the movie Shawshank Redemption (1994) came to mind. When the character Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) sneaks into the prison control room and broadcasts Mozart’s Sull Aria from The Marriage of Figaro over loud speakers out to the prison grounds, the inmates are instantly mesmerized by the beauty of the duet, the music transporting them from their confinement to lofty realms.

But what readers are confronted with here in The Savior is a drastic contrast. When Keller plays the Bach sonata in G minor for the inmates, he witnesses the horror of despair. The melodies act like whips on their flesh, cruel reminders of the hopelessness they are in. The intricacies of the fugue evoke searing pain rather than the expected comfort and relief, driving them to eerie moans and groans, exasperated in unrestrained sobs and anguish.

The irony is apparent. The redemptive power of music is but a myth. The violinist, acting as a life-giver or at least a boost to waning souls, is but a pawn in a game of cruelty. As the story unfolds, the violinist, the savior himself, finds desperate need for self redemption. Memories of his past, the choice of security over love, come back as torrents pounding on his conscience.

In the discussion of St. Matthew Passion with the young prison guard Rudi, Keller struck the chord of betrayal and remorse. As pathetic as attempting to pull one’s weight off the ground, both Keller and Rudi find It impossible to redeem themselves. The part a person plays in the overall scheme of atrocity needs to be dealt with. Being a pawn in the game does not excuse one from responsibility, even though the issue is a complex one.

As an expert in musicology and a professional musician, the author is able to effectively weave the music of Paganini, Ysaÿe, Hindemith, and Bach into literary form, an expertise only a violinist like himself can provide. The book excels in these detailed renderings of musical and literary tapestry.

However, the mere 204 pages of succinct narrative could be expanded to better handle the complexity of the issues and characterization the book is dealing with. The unfolding of Keller’s love affair with his Jewish girlfriend Marietta could be told in more details to allow the poignancy to linger.

Overall, a captivating story and a springboard to further pondering.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

The Savior by Eugene Drucker, Simon and Schuster, 2007, 204 Pages.

 CLICK HERE TO VIEW A VIDEO of Eugene Drucker playing Bach’s “Chacone” from Partita No. 2 and his explanation of its role in the book The Savior.

 

                                                            *****

Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

7 thoughts on “The Savior: Book Review”

  1. “The Savior” sounds similar to my Holocaust novel, “Jacob’s Courage” (2007, Mazo Publishers). Jacob, also a musician, is sent to Auschwitz, but manages to stay alive by playing violin in the Auschwitz orchestra. Classical music literally saved his life.

    However, “The Savior” is much smaller in scope. “Jacob’s Courage” at 524 pages is an apic, covering an entire Austrian Jewish family from 1939-1945. And, “Jacob’s Courage” is first and foremost, a love story.

    But, the power of music is not to be denied. How interesting that Drucker found a similar tact for his Holocaust story.

    Charles Weinblatt, author
    “Jacob’s Courage”

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  2. Charles Weinblatt:

    Thank you for reading my review and leaving your comment. From your brief description, your book ‘Jacob’s Courage’ seems to be an inspiring and uplifting novel, illustrating the power of love and music against the backdrop of one of the most cruel human atrocities in history.

    As for ‘The Savior’, I just found it interesting to have a musician conjuring up a scenario where the redeeming power of music cannot reach, that being the colossal depravity of the human heart, and the extreme deprivation of the human spirit. Although there is a story-line of a love affair, it is, as you mentioned, in a much smaller scale. However, within this little sub-plot, we also see the evidence of human frailty. When faced with danger and death, not everyone is bold enough to choose love.

    The passivity and cowardice of the protagonist serve to remind us of our own limitations and humble us to seek strength and redemption in a higher power, maybe a savior with a capital “S”.

    Again, thank you for stopping by and sharing with us your book. It would be my pleasure to read it some day.

    Arti

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  3. Thanks, Arti. This sounds intriguing — another one I will add to my list!

    Shari: It may be a bit ‘heavy’ for the summer, but as you said, it’s intriguing. Thanks for stopping by.

    Arti

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  4. Hello, Arti,

    I’ve read this review several times, quite astonished at the premise of the book. It simply never had occurred to me that circumstances might arise where music would not be a healing force, a bit of beauty to lift the soul.

    My own current post is devoted to Mimi Farina and her Bread and Roses organization, which was itself founded as an expression of trust in the power of music to restore and redeem. That power is one I prefer to believe exists, partly because I prefer to believe no heart is so callous or depraved that it cannot be touched.

    Those preferences are probably the reason I need to read this book. Sometimes considering other views isn’t comfortable, but life always is more complex than we imagine. A good review, pointing me toward a book I never would have found on my own.

    Linda

    Linda, I’d like to think that humanity can save itself too. However, with what we see nowadays, from all aspects, I’m beginning to doubt what we could do to redeem ourselves and to move on to a more harmonious future. Music certainly is powerful in healing and inspiring, but it too has its limitations. I think the value of the book is exactly this point. And it is in the complexity and unresolved ending that lies its poignancy.

    I’ve read your post Bread and Roses a couple of times. Will definitely re-visit for more thorough digestion. Thanks for sharing your view.

    Arti

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  5. Hi, Arti,

    Have you read Barbara Kingsolver’s book _Animal, Vegetable, Miracle_ yet? I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it as a work of literature, despite it being non-fiction and having some preachy parts. But the story of this family’s year of eating locally is much more entertaining and compelling than I expected.

    For someone who likes Annie Dillard and nature writing, for some reasons I’ve delayed reading BK, don’t know why. But one of these days I might pick it up.

    Arti

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  6. Arti,

    I can’t resist a postscript. Of course we can’t redeem ourselves. You’re exactly right about that, and much of the foolishness of the age we live in comes from believing that we can.

    However, if redemption comes from outside, it’s clear that receptivity to its power is necessary. Whether we’re talking about redemption in classical Christian terms, or about the redemptive power of love, or art or music, there must be a receptive soul. No one gets redeemed against their will, after all! That’s part of the point you make in your response to Mr. Weinblatt, and I think it’s helpful.

    Reading your review again, I see that point more clearly. And, I’m reminded how restless an unresolved chord can leave the listener. A writer’s version of an unresolved chord may be part of what gives this book its power. I’m anxious to read it.

    Linda

    Linda: You’re right about the necessity of a receptive soul. There are of course two groups here: the persecutors and the persecuted. Unfortunately, for the latter, music can’t do much for them in a practical sense but rather, acts as a mere spite and torture.

    I think you’re all ‘warmed up’ for the book. I eagerly await your response after you’re done! Thanks for your sharing.

    Arti

    Like

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