This book is based on the true story of Lale Solokov, who survived the Holocaust with his wife Gita. After her death in 2003, Lale felt compelled to share his tale, and did so with author Heather Morris.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz follows Lale, a Slovakian who volunteers to work at the camps on behalf of his family. From the beginning, any hope of decent conditions slips away as he and others are roughly herded into an animal transport vehicle. At Auschwitz, he quickly learns to keep his head down to stay alive. With time, a near death experience, and chance, Lale is given the title of Tätowierer, German for tattooist. With this job he could protect himself and others, but he carried the burden of painfully marking his fellow prisoners with a permanent memory.
One of the people Lale tattoos is Gita, and he experiences love at first sight. Special permissions as Tätowierer allowed him to move more freely around the camp, which he used to distribute food and medication, and to visit Gita. I was very moved by this book’s ability to portray the characters’ emotions. Lale tries to keep his grasp on hope and humanity in a world where it might be better to feel nothing at all. The prisoners witness executions, lose friends, and suffer beatings, but still they rise and do what they can to help each other.
While this book is categorized as historical fiction, the author has said it was 95 percent true to Lale’s interview. The story is laced with the hope, bravery, and devastation you’d expect from a WWII novel, but as Tätowierer, Lale was witness to a vast range of the camp’s darkness while he battled feeling like a collaborator.
The narration by Richard Armitage relays the somber, thoughtful tone of the story. He conveys a man experiencing more and more hardship, who sounds increasingly pained and exhausted after each new brutality. He handles German words and foreign accents very well, and has a smooth, clear enunciation throughout the book. I’m happy to have listened to this book so I could hear the true pronunciation of words and character names, which I would have gotten wrong.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz is as heartbreaking as it is uplifting. I highly recommend this book.
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