Description via Goodreads:
‘She touched the photograph in its gilt frame that was always on her desk, of a young, thin woman with very short hair and a baby in her arms. She had one last story to tell. Theirs. And it began in hell on earth.’
It is 1942 and Eva Adami has boarded a train to Auschwitz. Barely able to breathe due to the press of bodies and exhausted from standing up for two days, she can think only of her longed-for reunion with her husband Michal, who was sent there six months earlier.
But when Eva arrives at Auschwitz, there is no sign of Michal and the stark reality of the camp comes crashing down upon her. As she lies heartbroken and shivering on a thin mattress, her head shaved by rough hands, she hears a whisper. Her bunkmate, Sofie, is reaching out her hand...
As the days pass, the two women learn each other’s hopes and dreams – Eva’s is that she will find Michal alive in this terrible place, and Sofie’s is that she will be reunited with her son Tomas, over the border in an orphanage in Austria. Sofie sees the chance to engineer one last meeting between Eva and Michal and knows she must take it even if means befriending the enemy…
But when Eva realises she is pregnant she fears she has endangered both their lives. The women promise to protect each other’s children, should the worst occur. For they are determined to hold on to the last flower of hope in the shadows and degradation: their precious children, who they pray will live to tell their story when they no longer can.
The Child of Auschwitz is a fictional story which focuses on Eva Adami, a young Jewish girl who is born and raised in Prague where she also ends up falling in love with a musician, Michal. As their love blossoms, they marry and are excited to begin a new, happy life together. Life seems full of potential and happiness for the couple but unfortunately it is a turbulent time, 1938, and whilst their dreams are coming true, so are their nightmares as the Nazis begin to invade.
Eva and Michal are determined to survive, but they are soon find themselves separated and Michal is sent to Auschwitz concentration camp, where Eva follows in the hope of finding him. Eva quickly makes a close friend, Sofie, a woman who is looking for her cousin who is caring for her son, Tomas. Sofie and Eva's bond is a quickly formed but beautifully genuine and intense, showing the true power and beauty of human friendship. It was good to read about such strong female characters. The character development of other people in the camp was also well done, with each having their own distinct personalities, making it easy to feel genuine compassion towards them.
The book is clearly well researched and was inspired by the true story of Vera Bein, a lady who gave birth in Auschwitz-Birkenau and whose story is paralleled well in the book. It was very interesting and emotional to read about the challenges and changes that a hidden baby brought into the camp and it really brought home how incredible and shocking it is that, in reality, at least seven hundred babies were born in Auschwitz-Birkenau (though sadly few survived). I really did love this section of the book and it was by far the most compelling part to me. The exploration of motherhood during the Holocaust is always a sensitive and intriguing subject.
Graham has done a wonderful job of balancing the absolute horrors of the Holocaust alongside hope and I think that this book certainly gives us a good sense of both. She did well to create an atmosphere and to submerge me, as a reader, into camp life and, as aforementioned, I really took to the characters. My only criticisms would be that I did sometimes find that the book felt a little too sanitised and didn't capture the true, visceral horror of Auschwitz and I although I do enjoy a complete ending, I felt that some parts were a bit too idealised. However, I can understand why this was the case - the book isn't overly complex and is written more for entertainment/past-time purposes than any sort of heavy education.
Overall, despite being a work of fiction, Graham has created a well written and impressively researched story with an authentic array of characters. This is a highly popular book and I can understand why. It is hopeful, intriguing, emotive and I would recommend it to anybody looking for an easy-to-read fictional story focusing on both motherhood and the Holocaust.