Hi BookNerds, this review is going to be set out a little different to the rest because I had a hard time rating this one for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because of the claimed inaccuracies. Secondly, because of the writing style.
The Tattooist Of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris is a historical fiction based on a true story. It is heart-breaking and devestating.
CW: All that you would expect in a story such as this. Torture, death, malnourishment/starvation, mentioned rape (may be others I have missed)
Synopsis: Lale, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly taken to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. After some devestation, Lale is made the Tatowierer (the tattooist) as he can speak multiple languages, but this unfortunately means he is marking his fellow prisoners for life.
Devestated at having to fulfill this task, Lale uses the slightly privileged position of Tatowierer to help those imprisoned. He risks his life to trade jewels from the personal effects of those in the camps for extra food, hoping it will keep them alive.
Lale witnesses a lot of horrifying events during his imprisonment, but when he comforts a woman he is tattooing, he does his best to get to know her. Lale and the woman he tattooed, and who he now knows is called Gita, grow closer and he vows to survive this place and marry her. Love and hope prevails in this story, in spite of the devestation and horror they were faced with in the camps.
This is a devestating story. That is undeniable, it is heart-breaking and horrifying, the love and hope between Lale and Gita is so pure and sweet and the fact it survived such terrible circumstances is phenomenal. But I had two main issues with the book, firstly, Heather Morris‘ writing style was not for me, it didn’t always feel like it fit with the story she was telling or trying to tell. At times the objetive, simple and blunt style did work, it made certain elements much more effective and devestating but at times it felt detached and more like a report, there wasn’t a significant amount of emotional depth in her style and I feel like this took away from Lale’s story a little.
Secondly, (this did not bring down the rating because I do not know how accurate this is but) it was claimed that Morris got some significant elements of the story wrong including Lale’s name, which is meant to be Lali, and the numbers tattooed on Gita. These are significant elements that should be accurate in a story like this and I feel it is important to acknowledge this.
HOWEVER, I did still rate this 4 stars despite my issues for a few reasons. Firstly, while I did not enjoy her writing style at all times during the story, I did appeciate her telling Lale’s story objectively. While I am aware some elements are fictionalised in order to maintain pace in the story, Heather Morris did manage to write a story that was relatively objective and truly Lale’s, there was not a significant amount of authorial bias- she didn’t take Lale’s story and run off with it. She spent three years interviewing him and ensuring that it was HIS story that was told and that really came through while I was reading the book.
Secondly, I did enjoy reading this book- as much as one can with such a horrifying matter being explored, I felt it gave an interesting view into Lale’s life and his experiences, it is not a perspective we see often because in this story- there is more than the davestation of the camps, there is Lale’s personal guilt and fear. Lale feels guilty about tattooing the inmates and fears he will be seen as a Nazi conspirator- this is heart-breaking to read about because Lale was forced into this and feels dreadful about it but his only alternative would have resulted in his death. Lale goes so far above and beyond to help other people in the camp, so far in fact that he risks his own life and is punished terribly- his guilt is gut-wrenching to read about.
This book is a powerful one. While some people have claimed it isn’t hard-hitting enough because it didn’t show the true horror of the camps, I disagree. This story is outright horrifying, the deaths, the torture and the violence is dominant and terrifying, and Lale himself is subjected to/or witnesses a lot of this. But, there is another layer to this story that makes it more devestating. This is one man’s story, a story of a man who considered himself to be in a ‘priviliged’ position in the camp because he was the Tattooist and feared this, felt guilty about it, not a story of the holocaust as a whole. It is Lale’s story, a story of his experiences, his hope and his love in the face of such devestating and traumatic events and it is a powerful story in a different way. It is horrifying that someone who was a victim felt guilty for simply trying to survive, it is shattering, it is a different kind of horror and despair that you see and feel in this book.
Lale knows from the start that what ever awaits him will be terrifying but he goes for his family. Lale has a very distinct view of the camp, he is fully aware of its horrors, its violence and its inhumanity. But, he also sees the guards too, the Nazi’s patrolling and controlling the camp. His position means he has conversations with them, his guard specifically and what you get is not what you expect. The conversation is mundane and about the guards life, his girlfriend and his relationship, this humanises the guard which serves only to make him more dreadful and monsterous. The guard is a bad person in general, but he is also cruel and this is shown in his behaviour and his jokes about the deaths of the Jewish people in the camp to Lale himself. The cruelty combined with the mundane conversation is truly chilling because it shows that the monsters are human – and this is the most frightening thing of all, that humans are capable of such cruelty is just shocking. That is partly why this story is so effective and powerful.
The hope and love that runs through this story is so pure, Lale’s determination that he will survive this and marry Gita is so sweet, the fact that it survives this is incredible. Lale’s story is an important one and for it to have been told is truly wonderful and incredibly important. This is not a historical document this is a story of devastation and horror but also of love and hope in the darkest times – it is the story of a man who risked his own life to help others live and tried his best to brighten people’s day even when it seemed impossible.
Overall: The Tattooist Of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris is a heart-breaking and devastating story. It is Lale’s story and a very important one that focuses on fear, guilt and trauma but also love, hope and bravery in the face of horror.
I would recommend this to people who want a different perspective, who want to read about one person’s story of this traumatic period and how they felt and how they tried to survive. This is not a story about the camps, it is a story about one man’s experience of them and it is a story that needed to be told and one we should remember.