It’s April 1942, and Lale Sokolov is forced to board a train from his homeland of Slovakia to one of the most infamous concentration camps in Germany: Auschwitz . Upon arrival, the SS put Lale’s many language skills to use by giving him the privileged job of Tätowierer. Throughout his two and a half years at the camps, Lale marks thousands of fellow prisoner’s with their numbers and also uses his intellect and good instincts to stay alive, keep his position of power, help other prisoners, and also to keep the person he loves safe.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a challenging book to review because of its basis in truth. Not only is it based on a true story, but it’s a true story from one of the absolute worst times in human history. Lale and Gita’s story is one that shines a bright light on the dark, awful underbelly of humanity and any way you twist it, that layer of truth in this historical fiction novel will always be incredibly hard to read about. I found myself frequently reading ten pages and then putting it down to process or to give myself a break.
There are a couple of things the author does quite well in this book. First, the actual locating of this story and the interviews Morris did with Lale to write his story of survival down and share it with the world. I highly recommend reading the author’s note and also the small essay written by Lale’s son at the end, which highlight the author’s research and lives after Auschwitz of our main characters. I actually think these two pieces are more emotional and much better written than the entirety of the book, so don’t skip them! The second triumph of this novel is the overall feeling of hope and the finding of humanity where there seems to be none. Throughout the entire story, Lale repeats a phrase, “To save one is to save the world.” The main character lives his life by this saying and acts with compassion, risks his life to save another’s countless times, and understands the weight of his life, while offering to hold the weight of other’s. To provide hope in a time without any is an act of heroism, and Morris celebrates that fact with The Tattooist of Auschwitz.
On the other hand, the book itself is not a sophisticated or well-written work of fiction and I think for this reason, many people have criticized the book for romanticizing the events of the Holocaust. While I can see where those people are coming from, I don’t really agree. In my opinion, the book has very good intentions, but simply fails in execution. The author struggles to connect on a deeper emotional level through her prose, and as a result even her main characters lack depth and events transpire in an oddly linear, looking-in-from-afar fashion. Here and there, paragraphs and full pages would rub me the wrong way because the writing is short and choppy, with basic sentences and overly-simplified views into Auschwitz. (See the first paragraph of Chapter 5, for example.) In the aforementioned author’s note, Morris mentions that this book lived as a screenplay for almost a decade before she turned it into a novel, and the book does not hide this fact.
I don’t know Lale and Gita in real life obviously, so this is in no way a reflection of their relationship. But in the book, Lale sees Gita in line to get her tattoo, and he falls head over heels in love with her in an instant. There was no real connection between them except for their shared struggle, and I found myself being more inclined to root for them as individuals than as a pair in the end. The author sort of lost me on the way to the finish line with this love story, and I think she leaned too heavily on circumstance to build the core of the stroy.
Overall? I commend the author for finding this unique perspective of the Holocaust and sharing its message of hope and perseverance with the world. However, it is undeniable that Lale and Gita’s story is sold short by bad writing.
Shop The Tattooist of Auschwitz here!
PUBLICATION DETAILS: Harper Paperbacks, 978-0062797155 ; 288 pp; September 4, 2018 . Fiction -> Historical Fiction