Finished Reading: The Tattooist of Auschwitz
by Heather Morris
My rating: 3.5 / 5
Genre: Historical fiction
Set mostly in the concentration camp of Birkenau, Lale Eisenberg (later Lale Sokolov) tattoos numbers onto incoming prisoners for his captors. While tattooing a young woman, he finds himself captivated by her. He uses his position of tattooist, which is part of the political department in the camp, as well as some other savvy enterprises, to get extra food to help keep his fellow prisoners, including Gita, the woman who has stolen his heart. This book is based on a true story.
First, let me make sure to stress that the book may be inspired by a true story, but it is not at all meant to be an accurate depiction of life in Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Various statements surrounding the book may make it seem like it is (including several pages of notes at the back of the book), but after being decried as very historically inaccurate, Morris stated that it’s “not meant to be an exhaustive history but rather the recollections of one man who survived the camp.” After doing some research, I could plainly see some of the inaccuracies, especially since I read a good amount of Holocaust literature in my high school days, while others were specific enough I wouldn’t have guessed at them. However, while reading the book, I didn’t notice, and even after researching, it doesn’t sour the book for me (much). If you choose to read it though, do so with this understanding.
For whatever reason, I have long been fascinated by stories of the Holocaust. I think that is the main reason that I did appreciate this book for what it was. Lale often tells others to keep their heads down and do as their told, and they might live another day, especially when first entering the camp. The longer he’s there, the more willing he is to bend some rules and basically game the system, to the benefit of himself and several other prisoners. The friendship between Gita and her friends is heartwarming, as they do everything they can to help each other in times of need, both physically and emotionally. The way these characters attempt to keep their humanity during such inhuman conditions is what this book is all about.
The issue with this book, besides that mentioned above, mostly revolves around the writing. It was originally written as a screenplay, then adapted to be a novel. They are very different types of writing, and it looks like Morris had little to no experience as a prose-writer before adapting her screenplay. The writing is stilted and shallow, and while it made for a fast read (especially for such a short book), there wasn’t nearly the depth of emotion one would expect in a book of this subject matter. There is a sequel, Cilka’s Journey, of which I have an ARC. I wanted to read this first, because I read that Cilka is introduced in this book (though I’m guessing the sequel will mostly include events that happened after Cilka left Birkenau). I assume that it was written directly as a novel, and I’m hoping it will be a better read.
The book isn’t bad, by any means, so as long as you go into it with the understanding that this is very much a fictionalized view of the most famous and deadly concentration camps in the Holocaust, I would recommend this book to those who read historical fiction, especially of this nature.
Find out more about The Tattooist of Auschwitz
If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!