The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris || Book Review

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Release date: January 11, 2018

Publisher: Zaffre

Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction

Premise: 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.

A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.

Thoughts + Feelings: I want to start off by saying that I loved The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Sometimes I worry about reading books from this time period because of the pain and anguish that was caused in the millions of lives of Jews, Gypsies and other communities that were extinguished during the Holocaust.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a story of love and pain. Based on the very real life of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, we follow his journey through the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau where he ultimately becomes the tätowierer for the concentration camps. While tattooing the incoming prisoners, Lale meets Gita. You can tell from the moment that they cross paths that the story is going to turn down a romantic road, although its challenging to imagine as the workers are building crematoriums and housing for the thousands of individuals pouring into the camps.

This book was written as historical fiction and “based on a true story.” So while it appears that Lale may have remembered every detail of his life from the concentration camps, the books webpage makes it known that there was some creative license taken to fill in time space or delve into characters thoughts. It was also originally written as a screenplay, so there is a huge amount of dialogue.

The story is memorable. With a huge portion of the survivors passing way, it is not often that you hear stories of what happened in the camps. You don’t realize the tasks that these individuals were given. I asked myself – How could you possibly tattoo numbers on your own people and prepare them for death? Lale answers this throughout the text. You do what you need to do to survive. You bribe people; you help your neighbors if you can. While you may not believe in your faith, you believe that you will survive.

The authors note at the end provided an even better glimpse into the world of Lale and Gita. Prior to Lale’s death, he wanted to tell his story. He was connected with Heather Morris who took the time to listen, and question his story to truly understand how to connect the dots for the rest of the world. I can only imagine listening to the powerful story, but not getting it in one full swing. Heather Morris had to tie together the pieces from where Lale was comfortable and figure out what fit where. I am truly blown away by the piece of work that came out of their time together.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

ARC Review: The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni

Thank you to NetGalley, Robert Dugoni and Lake Union Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

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Release date: April 24, 2018

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Genre: Fiction / Historical Fiction

Premise: Sam Hill always saw the world through different eyes. Born with red pupils, he was called “Devil Boy” by his classmates; “God’s will” is what his mother called his ocular albinism. Her words were of little comfort, but Sam persevered, buoyed by his mother’s devout faith, his father’s practical wisdom, and his two other misfit friends.

Sam believed it was God who sent Ernie Cantwell, the only African American kid in his class, to be the friend he so desperately needed. And that it was God’s idea for Mickie Kennedy to storm into Our Lady of Mercy like a tornado, uprooting every rule Sam had been taught about boys and girls.

Forty years later, Sam, a small-town eye doctor, is no longer certain anything was by design—especially not the tragedy that caused him to turn his back on his friends, his hometown, and the life he’d always known. Running from the pain, eyes closed, served little purpose. Now, as he looks back on his life, Sam embarks on a journey that will take him halfway around the world. This time, his eyes are wide open—bringing into clear view what changed him, defined him, and made him so afraid, until he can finally see what truly matters. 

Thoughts + Feelings: The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell was a book that was on the verge of being extraordinary for me. I was immediately pulled into the story of young Sam and how his genetic abnormality caused immense turmoil in his life.

The novel travels back and forward in time: school and high school years, where Sam makes two great friends, Ernie, the only black boy in the neighborhood, and Mickie, a tomboy, outspoken girl. The three of them are very tight. They experience the formative years together – through high school sports, relationships and family trauma. They become their own special kind of family.

I knew when I saw this book on NetGalley that it was going to hold a special place in my heart. I love a feel-good story where the character learns about himself and about society. “We realize it is in these quiet moments that each of us has the ability to make our life extraordinary.” Sam’s mother always told him that he was extraordinary – although he never understood what she meant. Sam knows that he’s different and special, but it takes a lifetime of experiences and trials to truly understand the extraordinary life that he has lived.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Recommend? The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell was a good, average book. It will speak to everyone differently, based off of your own life experiences. I really enjoyed the book because I remember being made fun of as a child because I was different and I know I’ve witnessed other’s being made fun of for reasons out of their control. While this isn’t one of those books that teaches you a lot of life lessons, you may feel a pull to think more about being a by-stander in difficult situations.

Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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Release date: 2005

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf

Genre: Historical Fiction

Premise: Trying to make sense of the horrors of World War II, Death relates the story of Liesel–a young German girl whose book-stealing and story-telling talents help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding, as well as their neighbors. 

Thoughts + Feelings:  This seems like a rather unpopular opinion, but I didn’t love The Book Thief. Everyone that I spoke to raved about how magnificent the book was and how much they cried. Maybe I’m becoming heartless?! But I wasn’t that distraught when I finished. Don’t get me wrong… there were some heartbreaking moments in the end of the book (and the beginning… and the middle), but I was looking for something more. I’ve never seen the movie, so I know that’s not having an impact. I just thought it was a decent average book.  Since I finished earlier this afternoon, I’ve taken to looking at other people’s reviews to see where I might have missed the mark on falling in love with The Book Thief. It seems possible that my love may develop for it as I think about it more. It doesn’t appear to have an immediate need to be loved for people to finish it.

It took me a little bit of time to get into The Book Thief. I chose this title for one of the topics of the Around the Year in 52 Books Challenge: A book with an unique format/writing structure. The story is told about Liesel’s life on Himmel Street, but told from Death’s point of view. (Excuse me??) Death is the narrator in this novel. You know, death and war go hand in hand so it only makes sense that death narrates this haunting story.

The Book Thief is broken down into several parts. Without going into too much detail because I don’t want to give the story away, death follows Liesel through many years of her adolescence. You feel sympathetic for Liesel because you see her lose her young brother and then be left with an adoptive family a few short days later. It leaves you wondering how different her life would’ve been if her mother hadn’t left her.

My biggest unresolved question from this novel was whether or not Liesel was Jewish. She remembers hearing about communism and then she has no father. Her mother is transporting her and her brother to a foster family, but for what reason? She feels a connection to her Jewish basement friend, Max. And she’s never gung-ho about the Führer. I was thinking the whole time that there was going to be some huge twist in the end where Death was going to tell us that she was Jewish. IMAGINE THAT PLOT TWIST.

“It’s pathetic – how a man can stand by and do nothing as a whole nation cleans out the garbage and makes itself great.”

Does this seem peculiar to you? Although it was published in 2005, I got the Donald Trump vibes from this statement. I felt like it mirrored life in the United States today with the inaction of bystanders who won’t stand up for those in need. It doesn’t fit perfectly, but we seem to be a part of society who focuses on ‘Making America Great Again’ by persecuting those in the LGBTQ+ community, African Americans, Hispanics, etc. What are we going to do about this so we don’t have another Holocaust on our hands? What are you going to do about it?

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Recommend? As I mentioned before, I didn’t hate or love this book. I want it to simmer in my soul a little bit longer. The writing was beautiful and powerful, but the story itself left me feeling unfulfilled. I had many people recommend this to me, I’m going to continue recommending it too. It’s purpose is too great to let my weird feelings about it stand in the way.