Book review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris


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Title: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Author: Heather Morris

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Zaffre

Publication date: 11th January 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Synopsis:

I tattooed a number on her arm. She tattooed her name on my heart.
In 1942, Lale Sokolov arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival – scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust. 
Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale – a dandy, a jack-the-lad, a bit of a chancer – it was love at first sight. And he was determined not only to survive himself, but to ensure this woman, Gita, did, too.
So begins one of the most life-affirming, courageous, unforgettable and human stories of the Holocaust: the love story of the tattooist of Auschwitz.

My review:

This was an incredibly difficult book to put down despite how harrowing and complex the subject matter is. Perhaps what makes it even more challenging is the knowledge from the start that it tells the true story of Lale, a survivor of Auschwitz, and that all the difficulties he faced as the tattooist were real. It may be a horrifying story but the overwhelming themes of courage, loyalty and the willingness to survive are present throughout making the book truly gripping.

Apart from the strong willed character of Lale, this book also manifests similar strong traits through the hardships that Gita and Cilka lived through, from disease to malnutrition to abuse. The writing is very matter-of-fact and the author doesn’t delve much into the characters emotions, yet as the event of Auschwitz unfold, the reader is able to interpret the mixture of feelings experienced in such a confinement.

I am pleased that I decided to read this novel after much doubt. It is important that stories like Lale’s are retold and reconstructed so the horrors of war are not forgotten and are avoided. What made this book stand out from others in this genre was the brilliant way that the author gave Lale a voice and retold his story with honesty, proving how sincere relationships can form even in the most extreme situations. Everyone must read this book, regardless of the intricacy it boasts, to fully appreciate the buried memoirs of many prisoners that are finally being unearthed.

 

Book review: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

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Title: Before We Were Yours

Author: Lisa Wingate

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Quercus

Publication date: 30th November 2017

My rating: ★★★☆☆

Synopsis:

Memphis, Tennessee, 1939

Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge, until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents. But they quickly realize the dark truth…

Aiken, South Carolina, present day

Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.

My review:

I was immediately drawn into the story from the first page, particularly in Rill’s story starting in 1939 and following the roller coaster journey from her riverboat home to the orphanage. A controversial and difficult theme like kidnapping and child-trafficking requires carefully chosen vocabulary and I thought that the author successfully handled this sensitive topic. The five Foss children felt very real and I especially liked how their character developed from their home to the orphanage to their new adopted homes.

In contrast, I didn’t feel that the present day story held the same level of complexity, perhaps because it unfolded in a relatively slower pace. Avery’s storyline felt strained and I thought that certain parts could have been avoided, such as the love story which seemed unnecessary, considering the theme of the book. However, her relationship with her grandmother was sincere and I admired her will and hope to uncover the truth. The family bond, both in past and present, was completely believable and genuine and I enjoyed discovering the connection between River Foss and the present day characters.

Without giving away too much detail, I can say that the ending was bittersweet and as pleasant as can be expected in such delicate circumstances. It definitely made a lasting impression and I was eager to research this scandal and pleased that it was depicted in such a respectable manner.

 

Book review: We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

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Title: We Were the Lucky Ones

Author: Georgia Hunter

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Publication date: 2nd January 2018

My rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis:

From the jazz clubs of Paris and Kraków’s most brutal prison, to the ports of Northern Africa and the farthest reaches of the Siberian gulag, We Were the Lucky Ones expresses how in the darkest of times the human spirit can find a way to survive, and even triumph.

My review:

This book exceeded my expectations and left me with a lingering feeling of solitude after the huge mix of emotions experienced throughout the novel. Even before reading the first chapter I knew that it would be a mentally challenging read, as can be expected with any novel based around a Jewish family in World War II Europe. However, the scope of narrative and intertwining stories of each character set this book apart from many similar historical fiction novels set in this time period. As each character fights through their own person battle in order to survive the struggles of the war, the reader is immediately enveloped in their world and understand just how many close calls each one had to suffer.

I was particularly drawn to Addy’s story as his character followed a path not often discussed in books of this genre. From France to South America, his journey was perhaps one of the most strenuous, having been separated for over 10 years from his family before reuniting again. I sometimes found it challenging following the journeys of the other characters, as after separating at Radom in Poland at the beginning of the war, each was strewn across Europe or Asia, often not crossing paths until the very end of the novel. However, the pretexts before the beginning of each chapter summarising the key events were particularly useful in cross referencing against the events in the timeline of the novel and added an extra dose of grief towards the end. Most heart-wrenching of all was knowing that the novel is based on the author’s personal history and ancestry, though despite the anguish and despair exposed throughout the book, she successfully described the reunion scene with a mixture of relief, love and courage.

My opinion still remains the same even after contemplating on this novel for several days. The contrast in character traits, coupled with the collection of valiant scenes make for an exciting read and take us on a rollercoaster of a ride that can only be acknowledged by reading the book. I thoroughly recommend to all lovers of adventurous reads and those who yearn to see love and hope prevail even in the most desperate situations.