Recently I finished reading "The Tattooist of Auschwitz" by Heather Morris. As the title perhaps suggests, it's about someone who was responsible for tattooing numbers on the wrists of new prisoners arriving in that Nazi hellhole. The tattooist was a prisoner called Lale Sokolov and the book is imaginatively based upon his true life story.
Heather Morris teased out the story from the man himself. He had settled in Melbourne, Australia after the war, building a new life with his wife - Gita Furman who was also incarcerated in that inhuman nightmare of a place.
I was looking forward to turning the pages and the book was certainly easy to read but for me it lacked the harsh authenticity I had been expecting. It was just too damned comfortable. Where were the moments that ought to elicit tears? Where were the moments to make you turn your head away from the text and shake your head in sheer disbelief?
The way that Lale and Gita were able to conduct their relationship - well for me it made it seem that Auschwitz was rather like a holiday camp. It was just too easy.
I am sure that in reality Lale and Gita went through a terrible time of fear, physical deprivation, cruelty and uncertainty. Another writer - someone different from Heather Morris - could have made their true story really bite, really hurt, really resound in one's memory. However, there was something about Heather Morris's telling of the tale that made it all seem too sweet, too flaming nice.
Though it always held my attention, "The Tattooist of Auschwitz" failed to disturb me and I am sorry about that. I think that Lale Sokolov's tale deserved a more poignant telling in honour of the thousands who were so cruelly eliminated - when ordinary men did such terrible things.
I have not read this book but I fully agree that such topics need to challenge our comfort. Too bad this one fell short.ReplyDelete
Another reader might think differently but to me it was too comfortable.Delete
I chose not to read this book think I g it would be too graphic.ReplyDelete
I once visited Oradour sur glane in France, the scene of unbearable atrocity. I sobbed all the way round the preserved village. I bought a true account of what happened in the form of a book. I still have it. I re-read it from time to time.
Lest we forget.
I visited Sachsenhausen north of Berlin and wept at various locations during my tour of that terrible place. The echoes were everywhere.Delete
Interesting you should say that Christina. I've visited Oradur-Sur-Glane on a number of occasions (and blogged about it) and it left an indelible mark in my mind. The first time I went round there were very few other people and I was just too numbed by what I saw and was reading to have any emotions. That is strange because I'm a very emotional person. After that time I could stand and weep and even as I type this and think of the interior of the church tears well up.Delete
Yes, the church interior is a sad place. The window where the lady escaped and the bullet holes in the walls bear witness to that day in June 1944.
It has left me with a strange feeling and, like yourself I can cry very easily remembering this sad place frozen in time.
Try 'Forty Autumns' by Nina Willner, we both really enjoyed this book. I think you would enjoy it.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the heads up Briony (& Tom).Delete
I haven't read the book but I feel as though I've felt plenty of grief over the holocaust and it doesn't achieve anything so maybe a sweet tale could be refreshing?ReplyDelete
The best part of the book was a supplementary chapter by Lale and Gita's son Gary who was born in Melbourne. Now that did bring tears to my eyes.Delete
I guess that was the book that Ms. Morris had in her to write.ReplyDelete
I am sure you are right.Delete
I have not read this book, but your critique pin points the same deficiency that my friend, who did read it and was also disappointed, came away with. In my option, it's a bad editor who lets a writer get away with half-hearted narrative, but then again maybe it was a publisher's decision to soft-peddle the horror and it might have been the right choice. It DID become a best seller.ReplyDelete
You are showing the paperback edition of the book. It has a deckle edge in America, and I refuse to read books that are deckle edged. It's supposed to be classy, mimicking a hand-made binding, but it makes the book very difficult to handle and that annoys me greatly.
I knew what a deckle edge is but had no idea that publishers were mimicking deckle edging to sell more books. It seems daft to me.Delete
And I think you are right about the soft-peddling in this novel. Perhaps most readers want the sugar coating rather than the nakedness of such a story.
Have you read All the Light We Cannot See? It's the most beautiful, moving book I've ever read set in WW2. I don't think you would be disappointed.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the heads up Jennifer. I may well go along with your recommendation.Delete
I relish the rare moments I'm not disturbed...by past events and present...No doubt the patterns won't change...ReplyDelete
Kay bought me the book for Christmas, but I've been putting off reading it, as i thought it would be harrowing. Must get round to it one day.ReplyDelete
I must say I felt the same when I read the Tattooist. It made the prison camp seem mild when we know this was not true though I still enjoyed it if that is possible.ReplyDelete
I endorse Jennifer's recommendation, All the Light We Cannot See is such a wonderful book and there's a Ben Elton one called Two Brothers which is based on his family's story which I think is extremely good and gives a very good insight into the lives of the German people at that time. Would make a wonderful movie. Have you read it?
I am not sure I could read such a book, but if the author has softened the edges of one of the most terrible crimes in history, than her writing needs to be challenged.ReplyDelete
I haven't read this, but we bought it for the library. I suspect she wanted to make it a palatable story so people would buy and enjoy the book, but it seems criminal to elide the horrors of Auschwitz. Horror is pretty much the point of telling the story.ReplyDelete