The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
In 1942, Slovakian Lale Sokolov arrived in the Nazi prisoner camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he was given the job of scratching numbers into his fellow victims' arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust.
Waiting in line one day is a young woman called Gita. For Lale, it was love at first sight. He became determined that both he and Gita would survive the horrors of Auschwitz and create a life together.
Based on real events, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a captivating read. While it was a page turner, it is not without issue however.
Born in New Zealand, Heather Morris lives in Melbourne. In 2003, she met Lale, a meeting that changed both their lives. As their friendship grew, he entrusted her with the task of telling the world the innermost details of his life during the Holocaust.
She first conceived the story as a screenplay, before deciding to turn it into a historical novel. For this reason, the story is a little light on detail and emotion. Scenes seem to come and go quite quickly, with little time for strong connections and emotion to develop.
There are moments within the book that could have been further developed to build an emotional connection between reader and character. Of course, the events are horrifying and terrifying and highly emotional, but I never felt fully invested the future of Lale. As a character, he felt one dimensional and flat, as did Gita. In fact it wasn’t until the final page, where the pair are finally reunited, that any feeling for them as characters came.
There has been some controversy about the accuracy of the novel that has led to the Auschwitz Memorial Research Centre expressing concerns. It was worried that readers would treat it as a source of knowledge about Auschwitz. One issue is the accuracy of Gita’s number. It was remembered by Lale as 34902, but Gita stated in an interview from the Shoah Visual Archive, that it was 4562. Morris doesn’t shy away from addressing these issues, and in the end it is important to remember that this story is a fictional story based on real events. It is not a historical document, nor a non-fiction book. She says herself that “memory and history sometimes waltz in step and sometimes strain to part” and this is true in the story.
The young adult edition of the novel is edited and updated for younger readers. It contains extra materials, including classroom discussion points designed to get readers thinking deeply. Photographs, maps and documents to add to understanding are also included, as is a timeline of the holocaust and additional readings to expand knowledge. A question and answer session with Morris is included, which offers more of an insight into her and Lale’s relationship and how the book came to be.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz offers readers a somewhat gentle story about the horrors of the time. It is not as heavy as other stories about this dark time, which makes it more accessible to readers.
It will undoubtedly allow the younger reader time and space to reflect on the resilience of human spirit, the horrors of war, and about humanity.
Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser
Echo, RRP $24.99