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The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

I had heard mixed opinions before I took the plunge with The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. As with most decisions in my life, I stubbornly like to determine and form my own opinions regardless of others thoughts. That is not to say I don’t appreciate others opinions, I totally do, but I tend to not let them outweigh my own without some further exploration.

Before I dive into my review on this novel, it’s important to remember that similar to most matters in life, books are subjective. We all have different needs and wants from literature and our state of mind contributes largely to that. When I completed my degree, I vowed that I would not read or edit someone else's work with a clouded lens of my own personal style and preference. What should be most important is whether the work has merit…

Is it grammatically articulate? Does it defend it’s thesis well? Is it written succinctly?

If I am going to critique, review and edit people’s work, I think it is key to be able to separate myself from my ego and acknowledge the value of someone's voice, for what it is, even if it isn’t my taste.

The biographical story of Lale’s journey through WWII as a young Jewish male prisoner in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp is both inspiring and truly heroic. To be honest, at times it felt so surreal to me that I had to remind myself that this actually happened, this was Lale’s life. Through luck and his charismatic personality, Lale secures a prestigious, but cruel position as the Tatowierer, branding people with the number that will forever remind them of the nightmarish time spent in concentration camps - if they are fortunate enough to leave. The novel bounces back and forth between Lale’s current situation and his memories of times before he was taken from his home in Slovakia.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz explores the idea that one person has a ripple effect on other’s lives and influences outcomes by small acts of kindness and courage. The quote “to save one is to save the world” is echoed throughout the novel, expressing that one person can have a lasting and impressionable impact on the world around them. After spending a couple years in Auschwitz-Birkenau working and living, Lale explains how he has settled into a new normal. I think that this is quite a powerful statement in the essence that even in horrific, tragic circumstances, life can be made bearable with hope, friendship and a positive perspective. At any point his life could have been taken away and that gives him a strange sense of appreciation for every moment he has to enjoy life.

The novel portrays Lale’s life through literary realism, otherwise known as the everyday, ordinary style. This style for some readers might be slow-going, as it is not driven by constant action and deep emotional connections between characters. I think this is a unique and intentional approach which allows the reader to feel a level of bland and boring the characters in the novel are feeling. After all, this is a true recount of their day-to-day lives. In addition, this tone mimics the emotionless attitude that is enforced within surviving Auschwitz. The author does not sugar-coat or romanticize the details or try to describe them eloquently to embellish the reality. The fact is, these individuals have been stripped of their possessions, removed from those they care about, taken from their careers and aspirations and forced to become nothing more than a number.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz was largely described to me as a “love story” between Lale and Gita, but as much as I think that this is true, it was not what intrigued me most about that novel. What resonated most with you about this novel? Please let me know what your thoughts are on this extraordinary narrative!

- B

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