The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

I received a copy of this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

With massive hype around it, this book is the #4 bestseller on Amazon today, release day. With a great publicity campaign around it and an absolutely stunning story, it’s not hard to see why it’s so popular already. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is published today, 11th January.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

36468473The incredible story of the Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist and the woman he loved.

Lale Sokolov is well-dressed, a charmer, a ladies’ man. He is also a Jew. On the first transport from Slovakia to Auschwitz in 1942, Lale immediately stands out to his fellow prisoners. In the camp, he is looked up to, looked out for, and put to work in the privileged position of Tätowierer– the tattooist – to mark his fellow prisoners, forever. One of them is a young woman, Gita, who steals his heart at first glance.

His life given new purpose, Lale does his best through the struggle and suffering to use his position for good.

This story, full of beauty and hope, is based on years of interviews author Heather Morris conducted with real-life Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. It is heart-wrenching, illuminating, and unforgettable.

The story told in this book, of Lale Sokolov and his partner Gita, and their struggle to survive the horrendous circumstances in Auschwitz-Berkenau during WWII. If this review were solely of the power and hope of this story, I would have no hesitation in giving it five stars. This true story of love, hope, survival, and the atrocious human cost of the Holocaust is powerful, moving, and almost too horrendous to bear. That both of them survived beyond Auschwitz and went on to live long lives together, remaining in love, is an unforgettable story which I read in a single sitting on a Monday night, completely enthralled.

However, I take serious issue with the presentation and marketing of this book. With Heather Morris credited as the only author, and marketed as a fiction book, it does a disservice to the story of Lale and Gita. This is not fiction. This is a non-fiction book, and shouldn’t be marketed as fiction. Nothing in this book, the foreword, the afterword, the acknowledgements, suggests that Heather Morris had anything to do with the plot, the development, or the structure of this book, other than to frame the story of Lale and Gita as it happened. I really feel like this book is a memoir, written with the assistance of Heather Morris, or a biography, a snapshot of a true story. It’s not fiction, or historical fiction, and to mark it as such (and even the book categorises itself as historical fiction) is to do a disservice to it.

My other huge complaint about this book was that it was adapted from what was originally written as a screenplay. And boy, does that show. The narration is stark, with no emotion or description other than what is absolutely necessary. It’s so clear that this was a screenplay, and all of the emotion, the framing, the detail that makes it real, was supposed to be provided by the actors, by the direction, and by the production of the film.

So as a book it’s stark. Not in a way which makes it feel like a stylistic choice, but in a way which makes it feel like a lazy adaptation of an alternative media.

The story, the tale of Lale and Gita is so memorable. But the framing and the presentation of it lets it down so badly. To allow Lale’s words to tell his tale with assistance from Heather Morris would, I think, have been a better tribute to this story of love, and perseverance, but to categorise this story as historical fiction and market it as a novel is to do a huge injustice to it.

Three Stars



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3 responses to “The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

  1. Pingback: January Roundup | Much Ado About Books

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