[Review] The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Publisher and Publication Date: Harper. September 4, 2018.
Genre: Historical fiction. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on a true story.
Pages: 273.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction with a subject of the Holocaust.
Rating: Very good.

Link @ Amazon.
Link @ Audible.
Link @ Barnes and Noble.

Heather Morris website.

Heather Morris’s Goodread’s Author Page.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is book 1 in a series of 3 books. The other two books are Cilka’s Journey, and Three Sisters. I have these books and will be reading and reviewing them in the future.

Heather Morris met and interviewed Lale Sokolov. She has the support of his son in the writing of this book. I don’t know why the book is not nonfiction. I don’t know what the fiction part of this story is or why she chose to make this a fiction instead of nonfiction.

Summary: The account begins in April 1942. The men are in a crowded, stifling, windowless cattle train traveling to a camp. All of them are Jews. The story centers on a young man named Lale. He is 25. Lale’s hometown is Krompachy, Slovakia. After two days of travel, they arrive at Auschwitz. Lale is not at Auschwitz long when he is given a job as a tattooist. It is his job to tattoo the series of numbers on the people who have been brought to Auschwitz. These people are prisoners. They are men and women, boys and girls. They are Jews and Romany. Lale does not want to look at the faces of the people he tattoos. At times he is under stress and nervous, this causes his tattooing to be rough and painful. One particular time he looks up and into the beautiful eyes of a woman. It is at this moment his heart flutters and he is struck with emotion.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is one man’s harrowing story of a hellish existence at Auschwitz and his love for a woman.

My Thoughts:

I’ve read a long list of Holocaust stories. Most of the stories do not completely take place at a concentration camp. At some point in the story, there will be a memory-reminiscing of that time or there will be a point in the story when the character is a prisoner. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is about 98% at Auschwitz. This means that because of the horrors, murders, sickness, suffering, and depravity of that place (including the anticipation of further horrible things) there will be no pauses in this story. In certain fiction stories, an author places moments of rest so the reader can catch a break (a breather before another stressful event occurs), especially if the story is mysterious, gruesome, and bleak.

Lale is an amazing character. These are the traits I found: charming, intelligent, observant, dressed well before his imprisonment, long-suffering, resilient, an encourager, the ability to adapt to new jobs quickly, and courageous. When Morris interviewed him, Lale was mistrustful and didn’t want just anyone to document his story. I am glad Morris added in the author’s note a brief sketch of their interviews and relationship.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz documents a daily survival in Auschwitz. A descriptive paragraph gives evidence of this: “The months that follow are particularly harsh. Prisoners die in all manner of ways. Many are taken by disease, malnutrition, and exposure to the cold. A few make it to an electrified fence, killing themselves. Others are shot by a tower guard before they can. The gas chambers and crematoria are also working overtime, and Lale and Leon’s tattooing stations teem with people as tens of thousands are transported to Auschwitz and Birkenau.” Page 155.

Romance is a theme in the story. But the romance does not shift away from the mood or tone of the story. This is a story of extreme suffering and stress and sorrow. The romantic element is stolen moments so they can be together. A paying off of people is done so they will have time together. He shares what he can with her including his food rations. Their courtship is extravagant considering their place of forced exile.

Other themes in the story: war, peace, survival, good and evil, courage, bravery, compassion, power of love, injustice, and resistance.

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[Review] The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel

Publisher and Publication Date: Gallery Books. 2020.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: 400.
Format: Hardcover.
Source: Library.
Audience: Historical fiction readers. Readers of WW2 stories and the Holocaust.
Rating: Very good.

Link @ Amazon.
Link @ Barnes and Noble.
Link @ Book Depository.

Kristin Harmel website/ Facebook/ Instagram/ Goodreads Author Page

Summary:

Dual time period historical fiction story: 2005 and 1942.
In the modern time period, Eva Traube Abrams is a librarian in Florida. She is a widow. She has one son, Ben, age 52. In a newspaper article she sees a photo of a book she’s not seen since the early 1940s. She recognizes it as the Book of Lost Names. It is a German man in Berlin who has the book. This coincides with the 60th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. The man who has the book is also a librarian; and when he finds books that were stolen by the Nazis he tries to return them to their owners. Eva’s mind reflects on that time in her life and on a man she’d decided to forget after the war.
The Book of Lost Names is a courageous testament about those who were persecuted and suffered under the Nazi regime.
In the second part of story which is the past, Eva’s story begins in July 1942 in Paris, France. She works as a librarian at the Sorbonne Library in Paris. She is a young woman living with her parents. She does not have siblings. They are Jews.

My Thoughts:

World War II and Holocaust stories are at the top of my list of books to read. I read historical fiction, biographies, memoirs, and war stories all centered around the Holocaust and World War II.

The Book of Lost Names is a little different from some of the other types of books that it can be compared to. Some examples of my point is romance is not a strong theme. There is romance but it is brief. Through most of Eva’s story of the past it is just her and her mother. Their relationship is one of angst. There is unresolved trauma, fear, regret, and guilt. They are at odds with one another. It is sad because there is only the two of them. So often in a love story the romance is front and center in the over-all sweeping story. In this story, Eva loves her parents. This is a big theme in the story. Her great love for her parents. She must help them survive. It is a breathe of fresh air that this story is different. I love stories that are written-tweaked differently from most of the others. Bravo to Kristin Harmel.

What I love about the story:

1. The relationship between Eva and her mother even though it is thick with angst. Without their relationship in this story it would be flat.
2. Eva is an intelligent and talented young woman. The emphasis is less on her beauty and more about her character.
3. Secondary characters who are a strong balance for the story.
4. The mood of the story is tension. Moments of relaxation during brief periods.

What I didn’t like in the story:

1. I feel the brief romance in the story is not needed. Focus on Eva’s role in the Book of Lost Names. Focus on the people who she worked with. Focus on the relationship between she and her mother. Historical fiction does not have to have a romance. Love is expressed in different types of relationships.
2. Eva comes across as too cool under pressure. I feel it would have helped this story (to be more invested and swept up) for Eva to show deep emotion. I understand she needs to be calm under pressure with the work she did, but I’d like to see a deeper level of emotion, despair, and imperfectness in her character.
3. It would have been an added perk for this book if one of the children were written about in depth-their story representing all of the others.




[Review] The French Baker’s War by Michael Whatling

Publisher and Publication Date: Mortal Coil Books. April 18, 2021.
Genre: Historical fiction.
Pages: The paperback has 298 pages.
Format: E-book.
Source: I received a complimentary e-book from NetGalley. I am not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of historical fiction. Readers of World War II and Holocaust stories.
Rating: Okay to good.

Link @ Amazon.

Michael Whatling’s Goodreads author page.

Summary:

Andre and Mireille Albert are husband and wife. They own a bakery. They have a young son named Frederic. The name of their bakery is Patisserie Saint-Lery. They live in the town of Saint-Lery d-Espoir’s place de villle in Occupied France.
On October 19, 1943, Mireille became missing. Andre found his son. He found a strange, young woman hiding, but his wife is gone. Andre doesn’t know what has happened? He doesn’t know what to do about his wife’s absence? He doesn’t know what to do about this new woman? Andre is shocked and fearful. He is aghast at what to do?
The story is a daily journal of this time period in the life of the Albert family and the new woman whose name is Emilie.
The story is a mystery. For most of the story, the reader does not know what is going on in this family.
Andre and Mireille are a couple who are in partnership as husband and wife, as parents, and in their bakery. They are also a couple who are in love with one another. They are a close couple with a long history.

My Thoughts:

I have mixed feelings about this story. There are things I like about the story and things I dislike.

What I like:
1. The setting is in a small town in France.
2. I like the time period: World War II.
3. I like the married couple who are in love with one another. I like the long history they have. They are a respected and admired couple in town.
4. I understand the form of the story. I understand the plot.
5. This story is inspired by a true story.

What I dislike:
1. Andre is a loving husband and father. He is a respectable person. However, he is distraught through most of the story. And he is distracted. And he is at times frozen with the inability to make a decision. His behavior causes an annoyance and angst in me. I wish he had been a take charge person. I wish he’d been aggressive earlier in the story about a well-formed decision and carrying it out. I understand his character as the despondent husband, but I wanted more from him.
2. The story is filled with what if questions. What if a spouse goes missing, and a new character similar to the one missing shows up? What if both female characters are in trouble? What if feelings develop with the new character? What if this new person and the rest of the family bond? What happens if the missing person returns? The story is based on what ifs. What if is the foundation of the story. But it is that question that keeps me reading…that pulls me in.
3. The story does not have a satisfying or solid closure. I think that I know what happens but it ends loosely.
4. I’d like more of Mireille’s story. Her voice is in the first chapter. Emilie finally tells me her story. What about Frederic? I understand he is a child, but I’d like to have an area in the book where he narrates. His testimony is important.
5. For me there is something missing in this story. Yes, one of the characters is missing, but there is something else missing. Is it possible that the tone of the story: a frantic atmosphere of what ifs dominate the story so much that I am not pulled into the individual characters heartaches, fears, and ultimate decisions? Another words: the tone of the story rules.



(Review) The Dutch Wife by Ellen Keith

Publisher and Publication Date: Park Row Books. September 4, 2018.
Genre: Historical fiction. WW2. Holocaust.
Pages: 344.
Format: Paperback.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Historical fiction readers of WW2.
Rating: Okay.

Link @ Amazon
Link @ Barnes and Noble

Summary:

The story begins in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. 1943.

Marijke de Graaf, and her husband, Theo, are both arrested by the Gestapo and sent to camps. Marijke is at Ravensbruck. Her husband is sent to another camp.
Marijke is singled out with other attractive young women for a chance to survive in another type of “climate.” They are given the opportunity to work in a brothel as prostitutes in a different camp. They will be housed in a better place. They will be given better food with more portions. They will be regularly checked by camp doctors. They will be asked to perform as prostitutes for the camp inmates.
Marijke wants to find Theo. They are a young married couple. They are in love.
Marijke accepts this job. She tells herself it is to survive and find Theo.
After Marijke’s arrival at the camp, she is given a few days to settle.
Meanwhile, a new commander arrives at the camp. His name is Karl Muller. He is young and handsome. He is a staunch believer in Nazism.
Muller is immediately attracted to Marijke. They have a pseudo relationship.
Added to the book is another time period and another story. It is the story of Luciano Wagner. He lives in Argentina in the late 1970s.

My Thoughts:

*Possibly giving away too much about the story. Forgive me.

There are more things I dislike about the book than like.
1. I dislike the dual time period. I am seeing this too much in historical fiction and it has become boring.
2. I dislike the addition to the book of Luciano Wagner. He is introduced in chapter three. I spent most of the book wondering why he is in the book? What is the purpose? Does he matter to the whole of the story? Do I care?
3. In other books with a woman who becomes involved with a Nazi, the Nazi is almost always a reluctant Nazi. There is something in his behavior that gives him attributes of compassion, tenderness, and a willingness to help. Karl Muller is not this kind of person. As a result, there are several disadvantages given to Karl and Marijke’s relationship. One of them is their relationship is a fake. I feel no pull to read their storyline. When they are together it doesn’t hold my attention.
4. Theo is at the beginning of the story, but then he is gone, except in Marijke’s memories. If he had been more in the development of the story (his plight), I might have become invested in their outcome. After-all, Theo is the motivator for Marijke.
5. I feel the plot/storyline is a difficult one to engage the reader. A group of women who are prostitutes for the camp inmates, and because of their job their sexual acts are just acts. The women stare off into space-they check out. Some make a joke about it. Others are sickened. Their attitude and behavior is mechanical which makes their story feel mechanical. It doesn’t come across on page well. The one point that impacted me is the soreness of Marijke. Her private area is sore from having had so many clients-up to 8 per night. I want to have empathy and become invested (swept-away) in the story, but it comes across as a mechanic representation.

What I like about the story is the style of writing. I noticed instead of lengthy pages with descriptive writing, there is condensed, strong, and vivid sentences.

(Review) The Violinist of Auschwitz by Ellie Midwood

Publisher and Publication Date: Bookouture. November 18, 2020.
Genre: Historical fiction. World War II. Holocaust.
Pages: 356.
Format: Kindle edition e-book.
Source: NetGalley. I received a complimentary e-book copy, but was not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Readers of Holocaust stories.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link
At this time the e-book is $3.99

Ellie Midwood’s Goodreads page.

To read more information about Alma Rosé:
Music and the Holocaust
World History

Summary:
The prologue starts the story creating a fear of what might happen.

The year is 1943.
Alma Rosé is a well-known virtuoso violinist. She’s played in Holland, Austria, Germany, and other countries on the continent of Europe. She has family members who are well-known musicians and composers. They are Jewish.

Alma and her father make it safely to England, but she returns to Holland to continue performing. She is arrested and sent to Drancy, France. From there she is sent to Auschwitz.

After arriving at Auschwitz she is sent to the experimental block. She plays the violin in a concert. She is recognized as the famous violinist Alma Rosé. She is moved to the female orchestra block. Alma becomes the conductor of the female orchestra. Her position makes is possible to save other females in the camp if they are able to play a musical instrument.

Alma meets Miklos a pianist and composer. It is an instant connection and attraction.

My Thoughts:
It’s interesting the story starts with a foreshadowing of the ending. Since I had not read the true story of Alma Rosé, I read the story fresh and without knowing the events in her life.

The Violinist of Auschwitz is an emotional story. The name and setting of the story is immediate at causing an anguish in my spirit.

The story is a reminder of the harsh and stressful daily survival for the prisoners. But, the story is a reminder of the bond and unity of the prisoners. Their quiet defiance against the Nazis and their devotion to help one another.

The writing style and tone expresses the serious and somber story. Yet, there is beauty in certain scenes. For example, a stolen and tender moment between a couple. There is also sarcasm. Alma is a person who has a strong personality. It is difficult for her to remain quiet and stoic. Her feelings are often expressed as sarcasm. However, she has moments that are emotionally overwhelming and she is stunned.

The Violinist of Auschwitz has external conflicts, but there is internal conflicts with the prisoners who are confronted with gut-wrenching type decisions.

Themes in the story: courage, death, bravery, loyalty, love, passion, kindness, compassion, and perseverance.

I’m thankful Ellie Midwood wrote this important story. It is a strong testament of Alma Rosé.