I suppose this review of The Tattooist of Auschwitz may contain spoilers of a sort, so proceed with caution if you’re planning to read it.
It takes a lot for a book to make me cry. And I’m talking proper crying, not just a glistening tear or two. The last book to truly make me sob after completing it was A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which shot straight into my Favourite Books of All Time list the second I closed it, and spent the next hour a sobbing wreck in my bedroom. I’m desperate to read it again, but I don’t think I’m quite ready for that kind of emotional wringing-out just yet.
I first heard about this book in The Book Club Facebook Group, and immediately went to buy a copy and put it aside to read on my return from a trip to Krakow with some of my girlfriends. I considered taking it with me but decided it would be better suited for reading by the fireside rather than on a plane in case it made me tear up (spoilers: it did, from the offset). Plus I was a few chapters into Gentlemen and Players at the point, so fancied carrying on with that one – review upcoming.
I have family connections to the concentration camps of World War 2, which still seems like an incredibly surreal thing to think let alone write out. My grandfather’s uncle survived a concentration camp, and my grandfather himself came to the UK and never saw his family again. So I knew when I picked up The Tattooist of Auschwitz that it was going to be an emotional read for many reasons. I’ve tried and failed to read a lot of historical fiction, losing interest fairly quickly, but this one had me hooked from the start.
From the word go, this story is beautifully captivating and doesn’t shy away from describing the traumas of Auschwitz and Birkenau, but it stops at the line between necessary description for the story and horror for horror’s sake which I think is commendable and essential to tell a story such as Lale and Gita’s. It’s a true story of the lengths a man will go to not only to survive but to help others survive, and of a love that can withstand the very toughest conditions imaginable.
I honestly didn’t realise how emotionally invested in this book I was until I put it down and had tears streaming down my face. Whether you have an interest in WW2 fiction or not, this is a book you must add to your list because the love story shared between Lale and Gita is one that deserves to be read – and Heather Morris has done a beautiful job at crafting it.
Plot Summary: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov, two Slovakian Jews who survived Auschwitz and eventually made their home in Australia. In that terrible place, Lale was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival – literally scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust. Lale used the infinitesimal freedom of movement that this position awarded him to exchange jewels and money taken from murdered Jews for food to keep others alive. If he had been caught, he would have been killed; many owed him their survival.