Saturday, 24 April 2021

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Paperback, 320 pages
Published 27th January 2017 by Zaffre

adult-fiction, death, historical, non-fiction, read, read-in-2020, realistic-fiction, really-good, series-or-companions, ww2, zaffre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

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.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a very difficult book for me to review, simply due to the controversy surrounding it and my fear of offending anybody who does oppose it. I can understand and respect both opinions regarding this novel, but as a work of fiction, I found it to be an interesting and enjoyable read.

As a disclaimer, I would like to clarify the following - Whilst the novel states that it's based on a true story as well as a lot of research, the Auschwitz Memorial have also stated that the book "the book contains numerous errors and information inconsistent with the facts, as well as exaggerations, misinterpretations and understatements". As someone who has a special interest in the Holocaust (Auschwitz-Birkenau in particular) and spends a lot of time reading and researching the subject, when reading this book I was well aware that some of the portrayal did not seem completely genuine, though I can easily understand how many readers are influenced into thinking, or at least hoping, that this is an authentic recollection of events during World War II. I would like to emphasise that, as stated by the author herself, this is a work of fiction, only loosely based on changing memories from a survivor. 

As a fictional story, I found The Tattooist of Auschwitz to be as entertaining as a story about the Holocaust can be. The storyline kept me gripped from start to finish - I really didn't want to put the book down and my attention never waned. Despite the subject matter, the story was a lot more 'sanitised' than other books regarding the Holocaust and, so, easier to read than other books on the subject - though that is not to discount that was still a good sense of some of the conditions, emotions and situations that people had to deal with during that time. Whilst the story is clearly romanticised at many points it still manages to portray Auschwitz as a 'Hell on Earth' in which survival was key.

I enjoyed the storyline of the book very much and from that alone, it's easy to see why this book has become so popular. From the writing, it's quite clear that Morris has been a screenwriter before an author - whilst the story being told is great, the writing lacks any real complexity and there is, unfortunately, never much build up or suspense. I think that if more time was spent on enhancing the prose with more description, emotion and atmosphere it could've been even better. Despite a lack of depth, I found the main character, Lale, was very likeable and charming. I appreciated the afterword and photographs at the end of the book - this gave some more factual details about the man Lale was based on and also information regarding his romantic interest, Gita. 

Overall, this is a fictional story of survival and love. I'd highly recommend the book for anyone who is interested in this devastating period of history or as a starting point for people who are wanting to ease themselves slowly into the subject of the Holocaust - it is only worth remembering that this wasn't the reality. Despite my faults with the writing, the story itself holds its own, so much so that I am eager to read the next instalment, Cilka's Journey.

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

The End Of Her

The End of Her by Shari Lapena

Hardback, 352 pages

Published July 23rd 2020 by Bantam Press

adult-fiction, arc-or-review, books-i-own, crime-thriller-mystery, read, read-in-2020, realistic-fiction
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

It starts with a shocking accusation...

Stephanie and Patrick are recently married, with new-born twins. While Stephanie struggles with the disorienting effects of sleep deprivation, there’s one thing she knows for certain – she has everything she ever wanted.

Then a woman from his past arrives and makes a shocking accusation about his first wife. He always claimed her death was an accident – but she says it was murder.

He insists he’s innocent, that this is nothing but a blackmail attempt. But is Patrick telling the truth? Or has Stephanie made a terrible mistake?

How will it end?

As soon as I read the blurb to Shari Lapena’s latest Psychological thriller, The End of Her, I was excited to grab a copy and give it a read. Lapena is a highly regarded author and I was elated to get the opportunity to read some of her work. 

The story centres around Stephanie and Patrick Kilgore whose lives are turned upside down when Erica Voss, the best friend of Patrick's late first wife creeps into their lives, claiming that he was to blame for his first wife's death. 

The first section of the book mainly focuses on Stephanie (side note: it is weird reading about a character who shares your name!) who is suffering from insomnia following the birth of her two daughters. This becomes very interesting when there begins to be some mysterious happenings and Stephanie starts to doubt her own memory and thoughts. Sleep deprivation has the potential to be a great basis for confusion and psychological play which Lapena did use to her advantage at the beginning of the novel but I think it had the potential to go even further - for me, this section of the book, right at the beginning, was the psychological highlight of the whole novel. 

The death of Patrick's first wife is intriguing enough to hold your attention throughout the whole book and there is definitely a sense of intrigue and wonder about what really happened. The mystery is fuelled by the character of Erica who is manipulative and firmly regards herself a force to be reckoned with. Her actions implicate several other characters which is, at points, interesting but frankly, I simply found her to be too frustrating at points. Lapena did a fine job of creating a highly dislikable character. I did find the subplot of her relationship with a second family to be very intriguing but was let down at the lack of progression and explanation regarding them.

Overall, the book is an easy to read thriller which manages to hold attention. It's a perfect book for anyone who wants a quick, entertaining read, however I would have personally preferred more depth and development. I wasn't overly surprised by the ending and I think it will be one of those 'marmite' endings for readers. Whilst this isn't a particularly memorable book, its an easy, enjoyable way to pass the time. 

Sunday, 11 April 2021

We Need To Talk About Kevin

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Paperback, 468 pages

Published May 9th 2006 by Serpent's Tail
(First published April 14th 2003)

abuse, adult-fiction, books-i-own, classics, contemporary, crime-thriller-mystery, desperate-to-read, mental-health, read, read-in-2020, realistic-fiction, too-much-hype, serpents tail
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Description via Goodreads:

Shortly before his sixteenth birthday, Kevin Khatchadourian kills seven of his fellow high-school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher. He is visited in prison by his mother, Eva, who narrates in a series of letters to her estranged husband, Franklin, the story of Kevin's upbringing. For this powerful, shocking novel, Lionel Shriver was awarded the Orange Prize for Fiction. 

We need to talk about Kevin is yet another one of those books that I have been wanting to read for a long time, and I'm only half pleased that I've finally gotten around to reading it. Again, this is one of those books that , dramatically hyped up in my head, mainly due to my own intrigue over the subject manner, but also due to the multitudes of positive reaction land awards) that the book has received. 

I  have very mixed feelings after reading this book, which makes it quite difficult to both rate and review! The truth is, it took me more than one hundred pages to really get into the story and that is due to the author's writing style. The book consists entirely of letters, written from Kevin's mother, Eva, to his father, Franklin, following the event of a school shooting that was committed by their son. I usually enjoy the epistolary style of writing but despite the honesty of the content of the letters, they didn't seem 'real' and so I found it difficult to connect with the writer. For me, the writing was just too much - it felt as though most sentences were unnecessarily prolonged with adjectives, long-winded and made reading seem laborious.  I couldn't help but feel as though the author was often just trying to make use of as much of her vocabulary as possible. There is somewhat of a 'twist’ at the end of the book, but the writing style itself allowed me to figure it out within only a short amount of reading.

The actual substance of the book was undoubtedly impressive. The story explores a lot of issues, the main one being motherhood and the trials and tribulations that it can entail. Granted, the main event of this book is a horrific crime that, thankfully, most parents won't have to experience, but there are so many concepts and ideas shared by Eva that are accessible to all - this book is very philosophical at points and certainly gives you a lot to think about. I can't deny that I kept thinking about this book long after I closed it.

I found this book very uncomfortable to read and, as strange as it sounds, this was its star quality. Despite my obsession with all things true-crime, this book - mostly the final section - is probably one of the most disturbing pieces of writing that I've read. The unease that the story conjures really emphasises the complexity of the whole situation. It is very effective.

Overall, this book was a bit hit-and-miss. Whilst I was sorely disappointed by the beginning of the book, I am glad that I stuck with it. I really did struggle through the arduous first portion of the book, but by the midway point I felt much more compelled to pick it up. By the end of the book I even (slightly!) began to regret that the book was ending. The philosophical aspect of this book is very well thought out. I haven't read many fictional books that have been able to make me think quite so much and I am thankful for that, I've now considered things about motherhood and parent-child relationships that I most likely wouldn't have if it wasn't for this book. Despite my issues with the waiting style, I would recommend reading this book simply for the experience - I can see why the book gained awards and it's reputation as a modern book of significance.