Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Tattooist of Auschwitz - Heather Morris

Title: The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Author: Heather Morris
Publisher: Harper, 2018 (Paperback)
Length: 262 pages
Genre: Adult; Nonfiction/Historical Fiction
Started: February 24, 2019
Finished: March 10, 2019

From the back cover:

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tatowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for more than two and a half years, Late witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism - but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov's experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.

I've heard plenty of hype about this novel for a while now, and since I was in the middle of a Judaism and Holocaust unit with one of my classes, I felt in the right mood, so to speak, to tackle reading a Holocaust book.

Lale Sokolov, the namesake tattooist of the book, was actually known by the author for several years before he died. She recorded his story, which later became a novel. There has been some discrepancy over some of the information presented in the book, hence why I listed it as both non-fiction and historical fiction. The author herself says she does not tout the book as an academic piece of non-fiction, and that she has in fact changed certain details for creative license, so just a heads up for those reading it currently or who may read it in the future.

On to what I disliked, just because it's glaringly obvious within the first few pages by anyone who reads it. The author isn't actually a novelist, she's a screenwriter. In fact, the novel was written first as a screenplay and later adapted into a novel. It shows. The writing is very straightforward and relies heavily on dialogue. This makes it more engaging to a wide audience of people, but it also leaves much to be desired by those who expect a bit more from their reading. I feel like this would make for a great film or television series, but as a book, it falls flat.

The plot is engrossing enough to make it through, but I didn't feel very invested in Lale's story. It feels bad to say that, given that it isn't a "story" at all and it really did happen, but it's true. I think that this is just a case of good source material that just should've been put in someone else's hands. The themes of perseverance and having hope in the worst of situations are wonderful and very relevant to today's readers, it's just too bad the overall package wasn't presented as well as it could've been.

A wonderful, yet horrific story that should be read. It's unfortunate that the source material wasn't given the best treatment in book form, but I can hold out hope of a film version.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like it better than some other covers floating around, this one depicts a more serious tone.