This bestselling story of survival falls short. Awarded 3 stars on Goodreads.
For someone like me, who is perpetually interested in reading about the Holocaust as a way of trying to understand it, I have to admit I was disappointed in this novel. Though telling a true story, it simply didn’t come anywhere close to capturing the emotional dimension of a concentration camp experience.
The book relays the story of Lale and Gita, two Slovakian Jews who were survivors of Auschwitz. They meet at the camp because Lale was assigned the job of tattooing new arrivals with their identification number. So, this novel is a chronological accounting of their three years of captivity, with occasional tidbits about Lale’s life before the war. Along the way, it relates many instances of Nazi brutality, prisoner sufferings, and risk-taking by one person trying to protect another.
Heather Morris explains in her Afterword that she interviewed Lale multiple times over a period of three years to collect the details of their story (Gita had already died at this point). And theirs is a fascinating story.
Unfortunately, it reads like a second-hand account. Despite Morris’s attempt at recreating dialog, the narrative feels more like the reader is observing the difficulties and stress of living in a death camp — rather than experiencing them the way a prisoner would. I remained emotionally distant the entire time I was reading. And that has not been my experience when reading many other fictionalized accounts of the Holocaust.
Morris says she originally envisioned the story of Lale and Gita as a movie (which never happened) and then launched a Kickstarter campaign to make their story into a book. I am guessing that she is not an experienced writer, since she is a grandmother and this appears to be her first book. And I imagine this may be the reason for these shortcomings.