I’ve recently been picking up books based on their titles alone, not even reading the summary or other reviews. The title of the book, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, appeared to be pretty self-explanatory in terms of content, and as I am always drawn to WW2 literature it seemed like a good choice for me. I had assumed that the book was historical fiction, but it is actually a true story, and was initially intended to become a screenplay. Or maybe I should say based on a true story.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz is the story of Lale Sokolov’s arrival in Auschwitz in 1942, how he ends up working as the tattooist charged with tattooing numbers on each arrival in the camps, and how he meets Gita Furman, the woman he falls in love with and ends up marrying after the war. Lale and Gita survive so many horrors, daring so much in order to survive day by day in the death camps. You can sense Lale’s survivor guilt popping in and out of the narrative, something I’m pretty sure most survivors of genocide and atrocities feel at some point or another. In order to survive human beings tend to do what they can. There are many elements in this story that are difficult to read and even imagine, despite the fact that we know full well that they happened.
When it comes to historical fiction I often tend Google things that I want to learn more about while I am reading, and also to check accuracy for my own personal knowledge base. I spent a lot of time doing that during this book - for example when Lale describes seeing a US plane fly over the camp several times, I researched the aerial photos that were taken of the camps in 1944. It sometimes felt as if the author embellished, or maybe embroidered certain scenes slightly, in a way one would do to add dramatic effect in a movie or TV show. This is one of the things that irked me slightly while reading - Lale and Gita’s story is dramatic enough as it stands, they survived something that millions didn’t, and made it through to the other side. After I finished the book I did a little more research and saw that others had felt the same way, even going so far as to point out what events where incorrect or impossible. The author then countered with explaining that she had written a novel based on the life of one person and his memories, not based on fact. So I guess keep that in mind when you read? Or maybe just read this book as historical fiction? I don’t know I feel more confused now than I did while reading!
Another small issue I had is that the novel is written in quite a simple manner, using a lot of present tense situations which threw me off a little. It made sense when I read the author’s biography, because I think this would do well as a TV show - the writing is more screenplay than novel writing. That said the prose IS gripping, or maybe that’s just the story, and I didn’t have a hard time reading it over the space of 24 hours.
And one last thing: I would have loved more background information in many areas. Not everyone knows who Mengele was and what he did; I would have loved to find out how Lale’s sister survived the war; and more information on many areas of Auschwitz would have been appreciated. I have read countless novels and non-fiction on the subject so I knew who and what the author was referring to, but those who haven’t should be able to have the information at their fingertips. I think that is essential in any Holocaust literature.
To make a long story short: this is a Holocaust story of survival and love, a story of a couple who made it through nearly 3 years of Auschwitz to find each other again back in their homeland. It’s a story based on a true story that should be read as historical fiction, and there is a lack of background information.
I saw that the author is releasing a new novel in the life of Cilka, one of the survivors in this book, and I don’t know how eager I will be to read it now that I know that fact may be embellished. We will see.