Nazi Germany

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Talking About The Tattooist Of Auschwitz by Heather Morris with Chrissi Reads

Published October 18, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov, two Slovakian Jews who survived Auschwitz and eventually made their home in Australia. In that terrible place, Lale was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival – literally scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust. Lale used the infinitesimal freedom of movement that this position awarded him to exchange jewels and money taken from murdered Jews for food to keep others alive. If he had been caught, he would have been killed; many owed him their survival.

There have been many books about the Holocaust – and there will be many more. What makes this one so memorable is Lale Sokolov’s incredible zest for life. He understood exactly what was in store for him and his fellow prisoners, and he was determined to survive – not just to survive but to leave the camp with his dignity and integrity intact, to live his life to the full. Terrible though this story is, it is also a story of hope and of courage. It is also – almost unbelievably – a love story. Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale – a dandy, a jack-the-lad, a bit of a chancer – it was love at first sight, and he determined not only to survive himself but to ensure that Gita did, too. His story – their story – will make you weep, but you will also find it uplifting. It shows the very best of humanity in the very worst of circumstances.

Like many survivors, Lale and Gita told few people their story after the war. They eventually made their way to Australia, where they raised a son and had a successful life. But when Gita died, Lale felt he could no longer carry the burden of their past alone. He chose to tell his story.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: This book has sensitive content. We’ve both read books about WWII before. How does this book compare to others in its genre?

BETH: I think any book about World War II and the atrocities of The Holocaust is always going to be difficult to read but it’s actually one of my preferred periods of history to read about. I like hard-hitting topics that make me think and appreciate my own life a bit better and generally, whenever I read a book in this genre, I find out something brand new every single time. I thought it was a fascinating story that was all the more poignant for being based on real-life individuals. It was all the more unique for being told from the perspective of a character who was forced to tattoo those terrible numbers on the prisoners in Auschwitz. If I compared it to other books based around the same period like The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much as the Boyne but it’s still an excellent read in the genre.

BETH: Had Gita and Lale met in a more conventional way, would they have developed the same kind of relationship? How did their circumstances change the course of their romance?

CHRISSI: Hmm. A really interesting question there. I’m not so sure they would have developed such an intense relationship. I feel that the environment they were in pushed them together and made them feel deeper than they may have done if they had met in a conventional way. They pretty much felt a connection instantly and didn’t really have outside influences that could change the course of their relationship.

CHRISSI: Did this book make more of an impact on you because it was based on a true story from that time?

BETH: For sure. I hadn’t realised when I first read the synopsis that it was based on people that actually existed and when you realise this as a reader, it automatically makes the novel even more moving and impactful. However, I think I was touched most by the extra parts of the novel i.e. the afterwords written by the author after the story ends. In particular, she talks about how she met Lale and what his drive was for getting this story published. To meet the man behind the character was a touch of brilliance and very emotional to read.

BETH: In what ways was Lale a hero? In what ways was he an ordinary man?

CHRISSI: I personally think that any person that experienced the Holocaust is a pretty heroic individual to me. I think Lale’s story is impressive because he tried to help those in need even though he was in a high place compared to others in the camp. I do think that Lale was quite selfless and wanted to improve lives of others that were struggling, despite the fact that it could get him into trouble. As for being an ordinary man? I think he had inner strength like many of us do, it’s just hidden sometimes.

CHRISSI: How did you feel about Lale when he was first introduced, as he arrived in Auschwitz? How did your understanding of him change throughout the novel?

BETH: This sounds terrible to say but I didn’t really like Lale when he was first introduced in the novel. He seemed quite cocksure and I didn’t particularly gel with his attitude towards women. He didn’t have a bad attitude, I hasten to add. In fact, he loved all women unreservedly. However, it was the way in which he was keen to share this with the reader that I didn’t really buy into. As he progresses through the novel, we see how much he suffers, watch him falling in love (even though it was pretty instantaneous and I wasn’t too sure about this part) but it’s his selflessness and determination to make life better for all other prisoners that I really ending up admiring and respecting about his character in the end.

BETH: How does this novel change your perceptions about the Holocaust in particular, and war in general? What implications does this book hold for our own time?

CHRISSI: I’m not so sure that it’s changed my perceptions of the Holocaust. I still think it was an awful, awful time (even though I do like to read about it!) What I did like about this book was that it gave a different, more hopeful approach. The fact that Lale went above and beyond for those suffering really made my heart happy. I love acts of kindness. I certainly think we could all learn from those acts of kindness that were carried out in recent times.

CHRISSI: Discuss some of the small acts of humanity carried out by individuals in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. How did these small acts of kindness have greater implications?

BETH: I don’t think any of us in the present time can ever imagine what it was like to be in a Nazi concentration camp and how difficult and brutal the conditions were for the prisoners. One of the things I enjoyed most about this novel was the risk certain individuals took, especially considering that they could have lost their own lives in the process just to make another person more comfortable or safe. The viciousness of the German guards never fails to shock and appal me but it’s through these tiny acts of kindness that you start to see hope for the human race in the future. It’s amazing how such tiny things can make a world of difference to someone suffering and it was truly heart-warming.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I think so. I did enjoy the author’s writing style and I tore through it!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

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Block 46 (Emily Roy & Alexis Castells #1) – Johana Gustawsson (translated by Maxim Jakubowski)

Published July 31, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In Falkenberg, Sweden, the mutilated body of talented young jewelry designer Linnea Blix is found in a snow-swept marina. In Hampstead Heath, London, the body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again. Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald? Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light.

What did I think?:

All my favourite bloggers have been telling me to read this novel from the Queen of French Noir, Johana Gustawsson and I’ve been putting it off for goodness knows how long but there came a time when I could no longer delay the inevitable and I finally succumbed, gave in, folded, (however else you want to describe it) and all I can say is THANK YOU SO MUCH EVERYONE. This debut novel and the first in a new series is the most excited I’ve been about a debut since Cara Hunter’s Close To Home and I devoured it within a couple of days, reluctant to return to ordinary life each time I picked it up, it was that compelling and had me thoroughly enraptured by the power of both the subject matter and the extraordinary writing.

Johana Gustawsson, author of Block 46, the first novel in the Roy and Castells series.

Like many of my other preferred narrative styles, Block 46 takes place across two time periods. The first is the present day and follows two women, crime writer Alexis Castells and profiler Emily Roy who team up when a series of gruesome murders plague both London and Sweden. Are the murders committed by the same people? Is it a single serial killer or a duo? Why in particular has the killer(s) chosen to focus on these geographical areas? Then the author takes us back to the past, the 1940’s to be exact where we follow a man, Erich Hebner who is incarcerated in the brutal Buchenwald concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Roy and Castells must discover how these two time-lines are connected and attempt to stop a crazed killer who will stop at nothing in order to carry out his convoluted, incredibly twisted little mission.

Prisoners during a roll call at Buchenwald concentration camp.

I don’t know how eloquent I’m going to be at convincing you that if you haven’t read this book yet and you enjoy a gritty, shocking piece of crime fiction, you should pick this book up immediately. I feel a bit cross with myself for not picking this book up earlier myself as I was completely engrossed as soon as I had got to the end of the first page! I don’t often do one-off Tweets about a book I’m currently reading unless I have very strong opinions about the novel either way but with Block 46, I just couldn’t help myself. Part of it is set during one of my favourite periods of history to read about, Nazi Germany but I felt this author found brand new ways to tell me about the suffering of prisoners in the camps that opened my eyes as if I had been reading about the horrors for the very first time. It was intense, it was horrific, it was emotional and grotesque all at the same time. There were some events that occurred where I thought I wouldn’t be able to bear it but even through this, I prevailed because I literally couldn’t put this book down.

I couldn’t help but think as I was reading about how the treatment of the prisoners in concentration camps actually happened. It was this cold, it was this cruel, it was this malicious. The author’s grandfather was actually liberated from Buchenwald camp in 1945 so it’s plain that she has not only a very personal connection to the atrocities perpetuated in that place but has carried out her research diligently and sensitively. On another note and credit to the translator, at no point did it feel like I was reading a translated work, it felt just as raw, sharp and honest in English as I’m sure it does in the author’s native French. Let me just take a moment and mention the characters also, particularly Roy and Castells who I immediately warmed to and who definitely have mysterious depths that I’m hoping get probed a bit further in future books in the series. I especially loved the enigmatic Emily Roy, a no nonsense, blunt, independent woman who is quite the closed book when we first meet her and doesn’t always behave in a socially acceptable way (I can relate to this, I’m incredibly awkward at times!) but there are reasons behind her “poker face” demeanour that we start to discover near the end of the novel and personally, it was really affecting for me.

Finally, can we PLEASE talk about that ending. This is actually when I tweeted my message, it made me gasp out loud whilst waiting in a coffee shop for a hospital appointment and I got quite a few odd looks in return when customers saw the *gasp* was about a book. I know you bookworms would understand though?! All I can say about it is that it was pure and utter brilliance. I didn’t see it coming, I don’t think you could ever predict it and it elevated the author and her talent to even greater heights in my eyes. Now that I’m thinking about the way I delayed reading this book, I’m actually pretty glad I did. It meant I could immediately order the second book from Johana Gustawsson, called Keeper straight after I had finished reading Block 46, something I’m not sure I’ve ever done before. I can already tell that this author has the potential to become a firm favourite where I buy/pre-order her books the second I get the chance to and Block 46 has certainly earned its place on my favourites shelf where I look forward to reading it again in the future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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