Book Detail

The Sixth String

If your life were at stake, what would you do to survive? How does any human being carry on in the face of inconceivable cruelty? How do you reconcile a thirst for revenge with a plea for mercy? Does the power of love or art matter at all?

These are the questions that confront Nicholae, the narrator of The Sixth String, a new novel by Ottawa writer John Owens.

Nicholae is a gifted Gypsy flamenco guitarist (and a self-confessed “liar and fraud”) whose carefree, reckless and often bawdy adventures throughout Europe give way to tragedy and horror as he flees the Spanish civil war only to be trapped by the Nazi machine.

Imprisoned in a series of increasingly inhumane concentration camps, Nicholae learns “the geography of evil” at Dachau, Rivesaltes, Drancy and, finally, Auschwitz. In the dying days of World War II, and near madness, Nicholae comes face to face with very personification of banal villainy – Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous “Angel of Death”.

Meticulously researched and vividly written, The Sixth String offers a gripping tale of suspense, a passionate love story (several of them, in fact) and a unique insight into the little-known fate of more than half a million Roma at the hands of their Nazi captors.

Ultimately, the book is a tribute to the artistic spirit symbolized by the sixth string that, centuries ago, Spanish Gypsies were said to have added to the Arabic lute to create the modern guitar. In Nicholae’s words: “And I write for that guitarmy blessing, my passport, my alibi and my curse.”

The Sixth String is Owens’ second novel. The first, On the Rails, is a sweeping, Depression-era saga that national columnist and author Roy MacGregor described as “Wonderful…terrifically crafted, evocatively written…Powerful”.

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