A BOOK OF SONGS by Merritt Linn


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Avoiding sentimentality and sensationalism, Linn makes an engaging fable here out of volatile material--a child in a concentration camp--but never quite achieves the deeper resonances of Elie Wiesel's deathcamp tales. The unnamed narrator is a prisoner in an unspecified concentration camp of ill and dying men--former musicians, doctors, and professors now forced to operate machines which cut metal for shrapnel. The machine shop is an ""orchestral affair"" dominated by the prisoner ""red cap,"" a Quisling who survives by keeping the prisoners calm and passive, by cannily manipulating the fat, stupid civilian who makes dooming black marks in his death book. And when the narrator arrives he becomes one of those who cling to the words of Sheleen, a latrine philosopher who reassures the prisoners that ""no other men lead such noble lives."" (""When I was around this man I knew I was alive,"" says the narrator.) But when Sheleen hangs himself, the only source of inspiration is old crippled violinist Avron--who believes that God is within the tiny skeletal boy who is allowed by guards to beg at the food cart. So at first the narrator grudgingly, almost angrily, becomes the ""arm"" of Avron and then ""red cap""--both of whom, for different reasons, want the boy removed from the camp. But gradually he draws the silent wild boy to him amid the pitiful death games, the mud and freezing rains, the slumped bodies and quiet suicides: the boy will eventually talk, share bread, beg to hear of the Outside World. And, as the war nears its end, as ""red cap"" conspires frantically to keep the machines running to escape execution, the man and boy escape to meet the ""new soldiers."" A controlled and appealing fable with a pure-hearted message: simplistic, perhaps, but artfully executed.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1982
Publisher: St. Martin's