Title: Cilka’s Journey
Author: Heather Morris
Published: October 1st 2019
Publisher: Echo Publishing
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Her beauty saved her life – and condemned her.
In 1942 Cilka is just sixteen years old when she is taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. The Commandant at Birkenau, Schwarzhuber, notices her long beautiful hair, and forces her separation from the other women prisoners. Cilka learns quickly that power, even unwillingly given, equals survival.
After liberation, Cilka is charged as a collaborator for sleeping with the enemy and sent to a desolate, brutal prison camp in Siberia known as Vorkuta, inside the Arctic Circle.
Innocent and imprisoned once again, Cilka faces challenges both new and horribly familiar. When she makes an impression on a female doctor, Cilka is taken under her wing and begins to tend to the ill in the camp, struggling to care for them under unimaginable conditions. Cilka finds endless resources within herself as she confronts death and faces terror, each day a battle for survival. And when she nurses a man called Aleksandr, Cilka finds that despite everything that has happened to her, there is room in her heart for love.
Based on what is known of Cilka’s time in Auschwitz, and on the experience of women in Siberian prison camps, Cilka’s Journey is the breathtaking sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz. A powerful testament to the triumph of the human will in adversity, Cilka’s Journey will make you weep, but it will also leave you with the remarkable story of one woman’s fierce determination to survive, against all odds.
‘This is a work of fiction, based on what I learnt from the first hand-testimony of Lale Sokolov, the Tattooist of Auschwitz, about Cecelia ‘Cilka’ Klein, whom he knew in Auschwitz-Birkenau, from the testimony of others who knew her, and from my own research.’
Heather Morris, October 2019
I think that this author note, which precedes Cilka’s Journey, which was published in 2019 by Echo Publishing, is an integral place to start on a reflection of my experience with this book. Please forgive me if this a different style of review format from what you normally read, or expect from me. I confess I have struggled to put this post together. After Cilka’s Journey was selected for my book club last month, I read the book and I attended our lunch meeting. I sat on the fence with this one and I openly listened to the points of view of the other members of our book club who had read, or were still reading the book. I have had Cilka’s Journey sitting on my review shelf (I was actually gifted two copies from the publisher) since just prior to this book’s release in October 2019. When the news first came out that this book was going to be released, I was very interested. I like many others around the world who whole heartedly embraced The Tattooist of Auschwitz were eagerly awaiting another chapter of this moving time. The Tattooist of Auschwitz was an incredible novel, which I will never forget. Then came Cilka’s Journey, inspired by the tales of Lale, the Tattooist of Auschwitz, and informed by the author’s first hand research, along with accounts from those who were acquainted with her. When this book hit shelves, it was an instant bestseller and it continues to be.
If I look at Cilka’s Journey without all the media controversy that has plagued it, along with the list of discredits made by the Auschwitz Memorial Center and with the claims made Cilka’s own stepson, it reads quite well. It slips between Cilka’s experiences at Vorkuta in Siberia, along with flashbacks from her time in Auschwitz. With any novel set in this time period and of this nature, I am always careful in declaring that I enjoyed the book. Rather, I appreciated the history and I was genuinely moved by Cilka’s fictional story. I had no idea about the plight of those who had already managed to survive Auschwitz, were then sent to prison camps in Siberia, on separate charges. Prisoners such as Cilka were placed in this desolate and hell on earth for years. For me personally, this was the most enlightening aspect of Cilka’s Journey, along with the practices that occurred in these gulags. It is well worth looking at the Afterword supplied by Owen Matthews that outlines a great deal of fact on Vorkuta – The White Hell. I appreciated this, along with the map included in the back that outlines Cilka’s Journey geographically.
Morris presents her readers with an engaging story, compelling characters, a fast moving plot, period detail, a strong friendship based tale and a touch of romance. There is also an underdog feeling that seems to surround Cilka, much like Lale from The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Reflecting on these aspects, I can see why this book has struck a chord and appealed to both new readers and fans of Morris’ first book. I think I would just be careful in the front cover claims ‘based on a heartbreaking true story’. Cilka herself did not survive to tell her tale, which is problematic in itself. On that note I was also struck by this final claim by Morris.
‘Days before Cilka’s Journey was due to go to the printers, new facts were uncovered concerning her parents. They didn’t relate to her time in the Nazi or Soviet camps, but they did shed new light on this remarkable woman and where she came from. It was a reminder for me that the story of Cilka’s Journey is far from fully told, even with the book you hold in your hands.’
I will leave my thoughts on Cilka’s Journey at that. After reading it and discussing it with my book club – among others, with differing views, I am still conflicted by this one.
Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris was published on 1st October 2019 by Echo Publishing. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Cilka’s Journey, Heather Morris, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Echo Publishing for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.