By: Heather Morris
Lale Sokolov is a Slovakian Jew with a knack for languages and strong ties to his family. In order to spare his older brother being sent away from his children to work for the Germans, Lale volunteers himself to do the task instead. What neither he nor any of the other Jewish men loaded into the cattle train know is that they are being transported to Auschwitz, the most infamous concentration camp in human history. Many of them will die from illness, starvation, exhaustion, and exposure. Those who survive the poor living conditions must then hope they are not selected to perish in the gas chambers, their bodies to be unceremoniously burnt afterward.
Lale soon finds himself in a unique position amongst the prisoners. Through a combination of determination and luck, Lale works his way up in the camp ranks to become the tattooist who must mark those imprisoned with an identification number. It is while doing this job that he meets a young woman who immediately captures his attention. He doesn’t know her name, but he knows he will do whatever he must to keep her safe.
I don’t like rating books like this. How does one rate the novelization of a true story about two people who fell in love during one of the worst times in one of the worst places without sounding pretentious? There’s a simple solution to that, right? Just don’t rate it. Well, I don’t feel like I can do that because I do have feelings about this book that I would like to express here even if others don’t agree.
I had several issues with the way this story was written. I kindly ask that you understand I am not talking about the nature of the story itself, Lale and Gita’s story. I can’t comment on that, but I can comment on how Heather Morris wrote it. She is a screenplay writer who intended for this to be made into a movie. It was not written to be a novel, but that’s what we go. Once you understand her background, you can start to see why she made the stylistic choices she did. But even with that extra knowledge, I believe her execution was poor.
The dialogue feels manufactured, as do many of the scenes. Just like with City of Thieves, we must remember that this is a novelization, in other words, an approximation of the events as they happened with details added to make the story flow better. Some of the lines may have come from Lale’s memory of his time in the camp. Other lines, I can guarantee she made up, and she didn’t do well when she tried. Due to her history as a screenwriter, that also means she was relying on that mediocre dialogue to set the scene and shape the characters’ personalities.
Lale and Gita both felt incredibly flat which in no way honors them as people or the situation they were forced into. The emotion and suffering of Auschwitz were taken away in many places because Morris wanted to romanticize the setting to make this a love story. In doing so, she also romanticized Auschwitz. That is what I had the biggest problem with. Some moments are horrible and show the real conditions the prisoners faced but others completely miss the mark. Sometimes she simply says things like “and many people died” before moving on like that wasn’t important like those people didn’t matter.
The other thing that made this story unique was Lale’s position in the camp. He was nearly untouchable. He could get away with things other prisoners would only dream of, so this story does not represent the normal treatment and living conditions of prisoners. True, he was still trapped in Auschwitz with constant threats of death, but he wasn’t one of the people forced to perform manual labor or clean up bodies. What made his story inspiring is how he used his connections and superior position to help those less fortunate than him. He was a hero for that, and I have great respect for his attitude and his belief that he would survive Auschwitz. That’s the good side of this story.
I would like to thank my Aunt Kathy for loaning me her copy of The Tattooist of Auschwitz. She is one of the biggest supporters of my blog, and I know she is going to read this review.
Sorry, Aunt Kathy. I would not say that this is a terrible book, but I know there are other books that more accurately represent Auschwitz than this story. Forgive me.
Overall rating: 3