“The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris
★ ★ ★ ☆☆
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.
I hate to be that person, who reads a book of hope and love set during one of the darkest times of history, who goes, “meh, I’ll give it a 2.5/3 star rating”. A love story set during the Holocaust – that’s exactly what we need to remind us that love can trump all and prevail, even in the darkest of times. But, in this case, I just could not find myself consumed by the novel. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the true story of the two individuals (Lale and Gita) on who this book is based on. It’s the execution that I have a problem with.
Let me explain. It all boils down to one thing really: bad writing.
It isn’t great. It isn’t horrible, but it isn’t good either. It’s that awkward attempt at trying to do justice to a true story but failing to tick all the boxes, resulting in a novel that’s both here and there.
I love dialogue but when there’s too much of it, it creates a block in the reading experience. The simple rule of ‘show, don’t tell’ can also be applied to leveraging dialogue to keep the story moving forward. With the lack of prose, much of the story is stifled and contained to the interactions and conversations between the characters without exploring the spectrum of their emotions. It gives away too much of the story, in a way that leveraging descriptive prose and imagery [especially of the setting i.e. the Auschwitz concentration camp] would have done better.
Secondly, the pacing. I didn’t feel the urge to frantically turn from one page to the next, anxiously waiting to discover what befalls the characters next. Again, the use of so much dialogue could factor in here but moreso, the actual progression of the novel. There was no ‘rising action’ or tension that drew me in as a reader. That being said, I in no way am commenting on the true events or the nature of the subject matter in itself, merely on the writing style.
It was very choppy – with quick changes in the scenery, abrupt flashbacks that acted as an attempt to provide more depth to the characters but fell flat.
Speaking of which, the character development was disappointing. I finished the book, still feeling a disconnect to Lale and Gita whose story, though beautiful, just didn’t touch me in the right way. And this is coming from someone who gets sad at the idea of a bee stinging me and dying.
Lale is a charming young man that manages to slip in and out of tricky situations, literally translating to do-or-die scenarios. Fate leads him to Gita and the entire story has us believing that they were destined to be together. The storytelling, in itself, however has much left to be desired. The sense of detachment I felt from the book afterward was not what I’d expected to take away from the read.
That being said, the book acts as a testament to a true account of love and survival in one of the most harrowing periods of history. The world needs stories like this to be shared, people whose love has withstood the trials of time and reality to inspire those who feel there is less beauty in this world worth living for.
I would recommend this book to those of you who’d like to experience that on some level. Maybe this book didn’t touch me on a sentimental scale but you might feel differently.
Here’s to hoping you do.