The good: It’s a beautiful, but harrowing, story of loss and hope.
The not-so-good: That these atrocities really did happen.
Why I chose it: Intrigued by the premise and that it was based on a true story. Thanks Echo Publishing for the copy.
Publisher: Echo Publishing
Setting: Primarily Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Rating: 10 out of 10
The Tattooist of Auschwitz has claimed the early title of book of the year for me. It is a mixture of beauty, incredible horror but most of all hope in one of the most inhospitable places of the 20th century. People these days know of the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps for Jewish people, but this story makes it personal. It puts a face to the facts you’ve heard in school which makes it all the more chilling – the cruelty, killing for the sake of…nothing and the suffering of millions. Yet overall I found this story to have a continual thread of hope running through it as the main character Lale is determined he will leave the camp and make a happy life with his love Gita.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a fictionalised account of Lale’s time from leaving his parents on a train as a young Jewish man to reuniting with his loved ones. The themes and plot are all true, but I imagine some of the conversations have been expanded. It’s a story that will keep you enthralled as it combines beauty with the darkest of dark. Lale is portrayed as somewhat of a ladies man (he professes to love all women several times and he’s definitely got some charm!) who does his duty and leaves his native Slovakia. When he and the other Jewish men are going, he doesn’t know. They’ve all packed their dearest belongings, but at the end of the long, dirty ride on a cattle train it’s all left behind. Welcome to Auschwitz. Lale is now prisoner 32407, nameless. It takes time, but Lale establishes himself in the camp to become the Tätowierer, the tattooist for numbering the prisoners. It’s there that he first lays eyes on the love of his life, Gita. Gita isn’t so sure about making it out Auschwitz, while Lale has something of the optimist about him.
Lale uses his position to try to make things better for the prisoners, whether it is small luxuries like a square of chocolate or much needed medicine. Other prisoners become involved and soon a trade between townspeople and inmates helps to make things a tiny, tiny bit easier. The story unfolds through the eyes of Lale and occasionally Gita and others. I think because of Lale’s optimism (or perhaps not wanting to recall memories) the horrors of Auschwitz aren’t always so explicitly expressed. Sometimes it’s the things left to the reader’s imagination that make the images more powerful. It’s difficult to understand the true magnitude of the terrors of Auschwitz but because you feel so close to the characters it seems so much more personal. The narrative structure of the story also brings the history to life. Heather Morris’ writing style is also excellent – there are no flowery parts or excessive descriptions. The scenes in front of Lale are simply described, yet the atmosphere is tangible.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a wonderful, sensitive debut by Heather Morris. I have a feeling it will be on many of the ‘best of’ lists for 2018.