Last year The Tattooist of Auschwitz was a huge best-seller and on tons of book club lists. Heather Morris told the story of Lale Sokolov, a prisoner in Auschwitz that was responsible for tattooing the incoming prisoners. Heather Morris interviewed Lane and his wife and extensively researched his story. Cilka is one of the women that Lane encounters at the camp.
Cilka’s Journey: The Story
Cilka’s Journey picks up just after the camp is liberated. In ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ Cilka is a periphery character who is “chosen” by an SS officer to receive special privileges such as food and clothing in exchange for survival sex. Anyone who knows anything about the death camps during World War II knows that the prisoners didn’t choose to have relationships with the officers and guards. It was what had to be done in order to survive. Sadly for Cilka, after the war, some people had a hard time understanding this and she was sentenced to hard labor in the Gulag for being a collaborator. Cilka is liberated from one camp, only to be sent to another.
I will avoid spoilers of what happens to Cilka after this point.
The time during World War II is often captured in movies, books, and memoirs. What is often not is the time after the war. I don’t know that I have ever read a story that addresses the long lasting emotional trauma that came from being in the camps.
The reactions to events and thoughts that Cilka has in the book stem so completely from her time in Auschwitz that my heart just hurt for her. I so badly wanted to comfort her and tell her she was safe, even though that was not the case. The injustice that Cilka experienced over and over again was mind blowing.
Though many of the characters are fictional, Cilka is not. Her story is based on a real person. The author explained in her notes that she researched “Cilka” after she had interviewed Lale. Other characters in the book are based on real people as well, though the dialogue and how these people became entwined in the same story is fictionalized. Though Lale’s story was his own and as accurate as she could make it, this is more of a fictional story as the author would have imagined it.
Because the story is told from Cilka’s perspective, it would have been easy to have everyone around her be flat. Cilka doesn’t try too hard to see others for who they really are out of self-preservation, but their characters and personalities are still shown for the reader. She just knows that everyone is just doing what they think they need to do to survive and stay sane.
Oddly enough, even some of villains in Cilka’s Journey have enough depth of character that I could feel a little empathy towards them. Please note, I only said some! There is a certain doctor for whom I can feel only disgust.
This book is straight and to the point. It was a quick read and very easy to follow. Heather Morris does not use flowery imagery in her writing, but I was definitely able to picture everything that was happening in my head. There just wasn’t two pages about the feeling of snow or anything like that. It almost does feel a little like non-fiction in the way it moves from even to event. The story keeps moving right along, which I know will appeal to many.
I couldn’t stop reading this book. I read every word of the author’s notes at the end which is usually something I skip. Then, I went to her website to learn more about her and looked up interviews and press events regarding this book and the whole writing and research process. It was so interesting to me that I just needed to know more. It will make a great book club read, so add it to your list for this year.
On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being the lowest, 5 being the highest it rated the following:
- Laughs: 1
- Tears: 4
- Cheese: 1
- Predictability: 2
- Overall: 4/5
Currently reading: One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus
Currently Listening to the podcast: Root of Evil: The Story Behind the Hodel Family and the Black Dahlia
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