The Tattooist of Auschwitz has got to be one of the most talked about books on my timeline for the past 6 months. Curiosity made me select this book for a read for one of the reading challenges ( Write Tribe) I signed up for in 2019. The book blurb claims it to be “based” on the true story of a Holocaust survivor. I have found books based on World War II era to be a compelling read and am always on a lookout for them.
Title: The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Genre: Historical Fiction
Author: Heather Morris
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Ludvig Sokolov (Lale) is a 26-year-old Slovakian Jew when he is drafted into a Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz – Birkenbau in the year 1942. Owing to his meticulous grooming and the way he carried himself, other prisoners take to looking up to him for leadership. The Nazis to note him for his language skill set which they consider an asset. This leads them to assign him the mundane task of tattooing numbers on the arms of prisoners for identification.
Lale hates defiling the bodies of other humans, especially women and children. He takes great pains to ensure he doesnt cause them too much discomfort. Even though he is grateful he is not being worked to death like the others; he feels guilty for being grateful. His job earns him special privileges and he starts exploiting them to benefit the other prisoners, all at a risk to his life.
“You will honor them by staying alive, surviving this place and telling the world what happened here.” – Heather Morris, Tattooist of Auschwitz
The world takes a spin the day he tattooes a young girl Gita, who steals his heart away. Determined to now escape and make a life with her, Lale keeps motivating Gita to not lose hope. They manage to meet secretly by bribing their respective guards.
One day Lale is imprisoned for stealing rations for other prisoners but by sheer luck and wits, he manages to survive not being sentenced to death.
Three years of prison camp later, the Nazis start to relocate batches of prisoners to other camps. Lale and Gita are separated but make a promise to find each other.
Again, luck and wits come to his aid and Lale manages to make himself useful to an army platoon before escaping it to search for Gita. Once united, they get married and make a life for themselves.
Lasting impression on me:
I am sure my synopsis of the story must have let you in how I felt about this book. I found it pretty mundane for a world war two saga. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t revel in the horrors that were inflicted on the Jewish population by the Nazis. But somehow this book seemed to make a mockery of it all.
All is okay up till Lale being assigned the task of the Tattooist; but then he seems to have the luck of the devil himself. He is able to convince women prisoners to steal jewellery for him which he barters for food, medicines, etc with some local work crew who come to the camp daily. It felt too easy and simple enough to do – I am blaming the writing for the way things have been portrayed.
Lale and Gita’s love story is made out to be such a perfect one in this horrific situation. They manage to find sympathetic guards who are easily bribed. Meeting in secret doesn’t seem that dangerous if you go by the telling in the book. Ample time is spent in each others company in a camp where prisoners are guarded so zealously. None of this seemed believable to me, based on the accounts I have read of the Nazi concentration camps.
Lale’s luck holds out on every occasion – whether he is facing a death sentence or when he encounters the military platoon. Then there is the account of how Lale and Gita find each other – again the author has just made it all too perfect.
I guess the writing is very poor and has reduced an otherwise powerful tale to a fairy tale saga. Even though its marked as a historical fiction; I would call it pure fiction and that’s where it fails.
I have rated this book 2.5 stars out of 5 as felt really let down by the writing. The writer has managed to turn a powerful story into a mundane tale and in doing so, has let down everyone. I wouldn’t recommend this book for a read to anyone who is keen to pick it up as a World War II era book – it’s far too disappointing in that genre.
If you liked reading this review, perhaps you would be interested in reading this one too – Pachinko
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