Books: Pick of the week

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The Independent Culture
On 23 September 1939, with Warsaw under siege, and German shells exploding around him, a young Jewish pianist named Wladyslaw Szpilman, played Chopin's Nocturne in C sharp minor, live on Polish Radio. A few moments later, a bomb-blast took the radio station off-air. Szpilman's recital was the last live music broadcast from Warsaw before the German occupation.

Six years later, Szpilman resumed his broadcast - opening Radio Warsaw's post-war service playing that same Chopin nocturne. The city lay in ruins, and half a million murdered Warsaw Jews were heaped in scattered mass graves. Not a member of Szpilman's family was left alive.

Now nearly ninety years old, Wladyslaw Szpilman visits London's Jewish Book Week on Sunday, to tell his remarkable story of survival in a memoir suppressed by communist authorities and finally published as The Pianist. From the typhus epidemics and starvation of the ghettos, the hard labour gangs to the extermination camps, through years hiding on the splintered roofs of burnt-out buildings, scavenging for water and crusts; Szpilman was ultimately saved by a German officer who gave him food and blankets.

Szpilman's rescuer, Wilm Hosenfeld, perished in a Russian PoW camp, despite the pianist's attempts to free him. His son, Detlev Hosenfeld, however, will be joining Szpilman on stage for the first time tomorrow, reading extracts from his father's diaries. It will be a moving occasion.

London Literature Festival, The Word, gets underway on Friday, with opening performances from Mancunian motormouth poet John Cooper Clarke (left); an audience with Gilbert and George; and a talk by Peter Greenaway. Big event of the day however, is the reading by the secret winner of the David Cohen British Literature Prize. It requires quite an act of faith to hack out East along the river, but rest assured you'll be meeting one of the true literary heavyweights. The pounds 40,000 prize is literature's lifetime achievement award, previous winners include VS Naipaul and Muriel Spark.

Wladyslaw Szpilman: Royal National Hotel, Bedford Way, London WC1 (0181- 201 8206) tomorrow, 8pm, pounds 4 (pounds 2 students)

The Word, London Festival of Literature: David Cohen British Literature Prize, Thames Barrier Visitor Centre, 1 Unity Way, London SE18 (0181-317 8687) Fri, 7pm, pounds 5 (pounds 4 students) www.theword.org.uk.

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