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The Tattooist of Auschwitz | Heather Morris | Review

If you recall back in January the team at Bloggers Bookshelf brought you our Vow To Read selections for this year. I'm actually doing pretty well at my list and after finishing The Tattooist of Auschwitz near the start of March made it 3/5 read, and it's only the beginning of April!! Just watch me go downhill from here... the other two are sitting on my TBR pile staring at me every time I pick up another book instead of them. I can't help it if I have a review copy I need to read before a certain date, they'll always be more books I suppose. I should get around to them, but until then here's what I thought about The Tattooist and whether or not it met my expectations...

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 more than 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.

Before starting I'd heard a lot of good things and a few bad things so I went in with a lot of expectations, especially as my Mum had marked it 5 stars on Goodreads, and turns out they were met pretty well. I didn't realise until finishing that Heather Morris is actually a New Zealander, although now living in Australia, I assumed naively that she must be from Europe. I also discovered it was initially written as a screenplay which actually makes a lot of sense.

The writing style was rather different from what I've read in the past, especially historical fiction, and that must have been because of its screenplay heritage. The dialogue flowed the scenes and there were a smaller amount of scenic descriptions than you'd usually expect in a historical fiction novel. This actually made for easy reading and allowed you to flow from scene to scene easily even if there was an abrupt change of time or place.

The story was lovely although it was not that historically accurate as some lovely people on Twitter harassed me enough to let me know it wasn't after I posted my innocent one sentence review tweet. I didn't really mind that it wasn't historically accurate as it was the retelling of Lale's story from his memories. It's historical fiction, not a textbook about the happenings at Auschwitz.

I think the main thing that surprised me was what Lale was actually tattooing. I, again naively, thought he was some 'under the table tattooist' doing body art to the other prisoners without the guards knowing. A sort of last attempt at freely choosing what happened to their bodies, when in actual fact he tattooed the numbers onto each prisoner - the number that replaced their name. That didn't even cross my mind, so while it's not accurate down to the exact fact it definitely made me think differently about what happened during World War II and the Holocaust which I think was the general idea. 

I definitely do recommend it if you're into historical fiction, if you liked The Diary of Anne Frank and like to see a different perspective, or just want to learn more about what happened during that time.

Have you read it? What did you think?

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