#aww2018 · 2018 Reviews · book bingo · historical fiction · World War II

#Book Bingo 2018: ‘A book everyone is talking about’ – The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Book bingo may 19

#Book Bingo 2018 is a collaboration challenge I am completing with my favourite blogger, Theresa Smith WritesHow does it work?  We have devised our own personalised book bingo card game. Twice a month, on the first and third Saturday of the month, Theresa and I will complete a book review post, outlining our respective bingo card entries. The book bingo card contains a total of 25 squares, which we will complete over the course of the year. To accommodate all the squares, we will be posting additional entries in the months of March and June, this will ensure that we stay on track to complete the book bingo game by December. To keep things interesting for ourselves and those following along with us, the choice of bingo square to be covered will be entirely down to us. We invite you to join us in this fun book related challenge, by linking your bingo card entries in the comments section of this post or by visiting Theresa Smith Writes.

My tenth #Book Bingo 2018 entry is ‘A book with themes of culture’.  This is another  non review book choice that I indulged in reading over the recent school holiday period. After seeing so many great reviews and publicity on this book in the media, I couldn’t wait for my chance to discover The Tattooist of Auschwitz. This is one incredible story that should not be overlooked!

Synopsis:tattooist small

The incredible story of the Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist and the woman he loved.

Lale Sokolov is well-dressed, a charmer, a ladies’ man. He is also a Jew. On the first transport from Slovakia to Auschwitz in 1942, Lale immediately stands out to his fellow prisoners. In the camp, he is looked up to, looked out for, and put to work in the privileged position of tätowierer – the tattooist – to mark his fellow prisoners, forever. One of them is a young woman, Gita, who steals his heart at first glance.

His life given new purpose, Lale does his best through the struggle and suffering to use his position for good.

This story, full of beauty and hope, is based on years of interviews author Heather Morris conducted with real-life Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz- Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. It is heart-wrenching, illuminating, and unforgettable.

My review:

After decades of silence, one of the most moving, haunting but magnificent love stories to come out of the depths of human tragedy is The Tattooist of Auschwitz. This hybrid novel carefully draws the line between a memoir and fiction. Heather Morris’ account of the incredible life of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jewish man who survives Auschwitz-Birkenau, along with the love of his life, is one unforgettable tale of survival and love.

In an against all odds storyline, The Tattooist of Auschwitz chronicles the life of Lale Sokolov, a Jewish man who at the age of the book’s opening point is just twenty four. Lale offers himself up in an effort to save other members of his family from the initial transport trains sent from Slovakia to Auschwitz.  When he arrives at Auschwitz, it isn’t long before his demeanour and work ethic pulls him into a more significant role, the apprentice and then principal tattooist of Auschwitz. In this position, Lale must mark all prisoners selected to work for the camp. In the process, he marks and meets the love of his life, a young woman named Gita and so begins their unusual love affair. Through the unfolding story, there are incredible moments of love, loyalty, sacrifice and despair. Through it all, Lale endures, rising above his circumstances, making friends and allies and sealing a love that he will take with him for the rest of his life. Lale’s story is drawn carefully by author Heather Morris, which is the culmination of years of interviews. Morris’ work embodies the one of a kind spirit of Lale Sokolov, a man who had strong desire to tell his story after years of self imposed reticence.

Holocaust based literature, whether it be a non fiction, a memoir, a diary, or a historical fiction based novel are all incredibly hard for a reviewer to say that they “enjoyed” the experience or even “loved” the book. What I will tell you is The Tattooist of Auschwitz is an essential read and one that must be fundamentally shared. I feel it is our duty to pass on these stories, so that they may never fade and the memories of those who suffered so immeasurably should never forgotten. I also hope that a book such as The Tattooist of Auschwitz reminds us that the atrocities committed against the victims of the Holocaust, is an episode in our history books that should never be repeated in any form. This story has been hyped up a fair bit, but I can understand why. The real life protagonist at the centre of the story chose to withhold his tale for many years, as he was afraid of the being labelled a collaborator for his role in the war. Lale, the enigmatic lead of this story, offers the audience something completely left field. Lale survived the deadly Auschwitz-Birkenau camp and lived to tell the tale. The amazing story that rises from the ashes of this tale is one of pure survival and the strength of the human spirit. So many times Lale’s life could have ended, but instead he pitted himself against his maker and endured.

The aspects of the story that worked well for me were the pieces of information that I learnt about life in the camps. I shook my head in utter disbelief at the happenings in the camp. I feel slightly naive, or perhaps my understanding of the previous literature I have read around the Nazi death camps did not give room for opportunities such as Lale engaged in. During his in Auschwitz, Lale traded, smuggled and stored different goods. He also collaborated with outsiders to the camp, with workers sent in to build and maintain various parts of the camp. Lale was also able to embark on a love affair of sorts, with the object of his affection, Gita. He built a sense of comradery with the enemy, his Nazi guard. Finally, Lale lives to survive a part of the camp, the torture chamber, walk away and regain his position. A form of luck or a guardian angel seems to follow Lale, as he walks away from the camp to eventually live a full life in Australia after the war. It truly is an amazing triumph.

As much as this is Lale’s tale of survival, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also the tale of two souls, who meet in the darkest places in our world history and somehow make their love thrive. The moments that will leave a lump in your throat are the brief exchanges, smuggled letters, stolen kisses, gentle hand touches, sharing of treats, the protection and effort Lale goes to in order to secure Gita’s survival. This inspiring, as well as enduring love story, reminds us of the depth of humanity, to love in the face of utter despair. I felt the love story aspect and my concern for the final fate of this couple was why I continued to turn the pages over of this book at such a frenzied pace. This book induces a deep desire in the reader to want to know what happens to Lale and Gita.

Morris has done the best job possible with the task she has been set. She presents an accessible and straightforward tone to her novel. The tension is set to a high decibel, but Lale’s story shines. Morris is careful in her approach, balancing the raw facts with experience and the end result is simple astonishing. It would surprise me if this novel does not induce both tears and laughter. Before closing off my review, I must acknowledge the extras in this book that provided the novel with the closure it deserves. The detailed authors note expands on the making of this novel, which we learn was once intended to be a screenplay. It also provides additional detail on the author’s collaboration with principal character, Lale. Morris adds photographs of Lale and Gita to her book, which allows the reader to put a face to the incredible couple of this novel. Finally, a heartfelt afterward penned by Gary Sokolov, Lale and Gita’s son, is a fitting tribute to the very personal memory of his parents. Rounding off the book is the ‘Additional Information’ section which provides a map of Auschwitz and some pertinent facts that add further substance to this stirring tale.

Ultimately, The Tattooist of Auschwitz lived up to all the praise it has been collecting. This is one story that should be given a voice, shared in all forms and discussed at length. I am appreciative of the work of Heather Morris in bringing this incandescent tale of war, love and survival to our attention. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is one story that should be passed on and never, ever forgotten.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris was published on February 1st 2018 by Echo Publishing. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Heather Morris visit here. 

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is book #50 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge




4 thoughts on “#Book Bingo 2018: ‘A book everyone is talking about’ – The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

  1. Now I’ve read this review I’ve decided to attend an author event mid-June just over the VIC/SA border (130km away in Mt Gambier). Heather is coming to give an evening presentation for the library there to discuss her process. In preparation, I downloaded the audiobook from my library. Now a month to wait… sounds fabulous. I thought I’d had enough of holocaust books, but this one sounds so personal. I can’t wait to hear how she’s put it all together. Thanks for the share. X J


  2. #Book Bingo 2018: ‘A book based on a true story’ – Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

    Another one of those books I would never have picked up if it wasn’t for book club, forever grateful to everybody in our group for choosing unique books I would never normally choose and I’m also using this book to tick off a square on the Book Bingo challenge, ‘a book based on a true story.’

    Burial Rites is a breathtaking debut by Australian author Hannah Kent.

    This beautiful and compelling and rather tragic tale is based on the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir the last woman executed in Iceland in the early 1800s. I loved Agnes’s voice in this spellbinding story – beautiful, poetic and intelligent. Agnes has been condemned to death for the murder of two men and leading up to the execution date she’s sent to a local farming family to work with/for them for 6 months.

    The setting is cold, bleak, grey, isolated, yet the authors description of the landscape is stunning, captivating and hypnotic.

    I loved this book. Gorgeous, haunting, atmospheric and heart-rending.

    Highly recommended.


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