THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ
Written by Heather Morris
Published by Harper, September 4, 2018
My star rating: 3.25 stars
This beautiful, illuminating tale of hope and courage is based on interviews that were conducted with Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov—an unforgettable love story in the midst of atrocity.
In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.
Imprisoned for over two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.
One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her. Find it on Goodreads
If you’re a bookworm, chances are you’ve heard of this book. It’s been everywhere lately! I’ve always been a huge fan of world war two historical fiction, so the hype was a little hard for me to ignore. I went into it blindly, not even reading the entirety of the synopsis, and ended up with some really mixed feelings about this one.
First, I’ll start with the positives. I couldn’t help but fall in love with these characters. This is told completely from the perspective of Lale, as we learn how he gets to Auschwitz, and how he survives. And, to me, he was the pure definition of a survivor. He didn’t like some of the things he did while at the camp. He knew that it was putting others and himself in danger. Yet, at the same time, since living to see the next day was a gamble and not a given, it was a risk he was willing to take to make others happy. He still did these things knowing that he had no other choice and we got to see how he was able to compartmentalize his actions. He saw and did some awful things. Things no one should ever see in their life time. Yet he found a way to make it through, put smiles on others faces, and find some of his own happiness in the end.
The relationships throughout this book were heartbreaking and just how I imagined they would be. Everyone took things one day at a time. They protected themselves and others. They didn’t take anything for granted. And they looked forward to something to smile about and then didn’t let the horrors take that smile away.
But I will say, there was just something missing, and I think that had a lot to do with the writing style. There was just something about it that didn’t agree with me. Yes, there was consistent forward movement with the plot. Yes, there was character development. Yes, there was some level of emotion. But it was just lacking in flourish and depth. I for one love short chapters, but in this case, I think it did the book a disservice. I felt that I wasn’t given enough time and detail in the moment and missed out on some of the emotional connectivity. I obviously understood the characters, their feelings, and their struggles, but I didn’t feel the situation as deeply as I could have. The writing just felt linear. It gave me everything I needed….. but nothing more.
From what I understand, the author originally wrote this as a screenplay for a film. That I can see. If I was to see this book play out in film format, and having that visual representation, I think that I would be able to connect with it more. As much as I did enjoy this story, I really do feel that something was lost in translation from film to novel.
Until next time, happy reading!