I’ll admit it, when I picked up Heather Morris’s The Tattooist of Auschwitz I thought to myself: “another Holocaust story, do we really need it?” There are already perfect books (Elie Wiesel’s Night) and Pulitzer Prize winners (Art Spiegelman’s Maus) and breathtaking movies (“Schindler’s List” “Life is Beautiful” “Bent”). But then I read the book and I realized there are still unique and important narratives about this horrific time that deserve to be told and must be experienced.
The book is based on the true life and experiences of Lile Sokolov. Lile’s story sadly begins like many peoples from that time: as a Slovakian Jew, he must leave his family to be imprisoned at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Once at the concentration camp Lile is selected to work as the Tätowierer, he must tattoo the identification numbers onto the forearms of all the people brought into the camp. For over two and half years Lile must deal not only with the horrors and traumas of life in the concentration camp but grapple with his job, which grants him some safety and privileges from the guards but comes at the cost of having to permanently scar his fellow prisoners. But in this place of hopelessness and death, Lile finds love. Lile and Gita’s love proves that against all odds love is possible and with that love comes strength to overcome and survive the harshest situations.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz strikes a unique balance between heartbreaking and heartwarming. No matter how many times I read or hear about the Holocaust it never ceases to shock, appall, and sadden me that humans could commit such atrocities to one another. But the book isn’t all depressing. Lile is a unique protagonist with a real zest for life. There are moments of beauty and strength that are truly empowering like Lile risking his life to smuggle lifesaving food and medicine into the camp for his fellow prisoners. The book is engaging and quick, but it definitely does not have the most beautiful prose. While reading the book, I kept feeling like it was written with the movie in mind. I wasn’t surprised at all to read in the acknowledgments that Morris originally intended the story to be a screenplay but only chose later to adapt it into the novel.
All that said, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a must read. Though maybe not the best book on the topic, it offers a unique, true-life perspective on the Holocaust. And I know if you are like me that once you are introduced to Lile and read about his experiences in Auschwitz and his love story with Gita, he will be someone you will never forget.
**This book was provided by Harper Paperbacks for an honest review
- Title: The Tattooist of Auschwitz
- Author: Heather Morris
- Published: September 4, 2018 (Harper)
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Booky Nooky Rating: * * * 1/2