The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris is an historical fiction novel about a young Jew named Lale who falls in love with a fellow prisoner at Auschwitz named Gita. The story begins with Lale living in Slovakia close to his family; soon the war begins to make it’s way to Slovakia and each family is asked to send one young male member of their family to join the Slovakian army. Lale volunteers to go as he is still single and has no children, while his older brother is married and has kids. Lale packs his bags, dressed in his best clothes, and heads to Prague as ordered. Lale has to spend a few days in Prague before he is forced onto a train where there is only standing room and with many other Jews. They don’t know where they are going or why, but some have come from farther away and have been on the train longer. Lale notices how many have lost hope and can’t understand why he is so upbeat.
They arrive at Auschwitz where Lale is tattooed and becomes a laborer as many others have. He is assigned to a barrack and has to share a bed with others. It is cramped conditions and there isn’t much food they are receiving. Lale begins making friends with other prisoners at the camp; his friendly personality and ability to speak multiple languages makes him useful in other work. Soon, the Tatowierer notices Lale and asks Lale if he’d like to be the Tatowierer’s assistant. At first Lale is disgusted at the thought of tattooing others who share the same faith as himself, but the Tatowierer points out that it is steady work, that it beats working in the heat or cold with little food and that the job offers more food and freedom than some of the others. After making those points, Lale decides to take the ‘job’. Lale is a good tattooist, but works too slow in the beginning and his mentor has to remind him to work more quickly or risk being hurt. Lale finally gets a rhythm going and is able to tattoo without getting distracted. One day as he is tattooing the prisoners that have arrived, they are asked to re-tattoo those whose tattoos have begun to fade; that’s when he meets Gita and has a hard time concentrating on his work.
After that day, he is unable to stop thinking about her. Lale makes an unlikely friend in the German soldier who keeps watch over him. He even admits that the reason Lale is still alive is because he likes Lale and doesn’t want to kill him yet. Lale continues to be good at his work and after the Germans have taken his mentor away, Lale is able to ask for an assistant to help the work go by faster. He chooses a friend that he made when he first came to Auschwitz. Lale and his friend are able to get the work done at a good pace, but Lale has to teach his friend how to behave in front of the Germans and how to stay focused on his work. Around this time, a new doctor is brought into Auschwitz and he is intimidating to both Lale and his assistant. One day, Lale is a little too bold with the doctor and it is decided that they will take away his assistant. Lale is instantly upset and tries to persuade them to leave him there to finish his work so they don’t get behind, but his request is ignored and his assistant is taken away. Lale thinks his friend is dead and that he won’t see him again.
While Lale is working as a tattooist, he is able to meet some workers that they bring in from another village. They are not Jews and do not have to stay at the camp; Lale decides to talk to them to see why they don’t have to stay at the camp, what work they perform while they are there and if there is any news or information they can share with Lale. He befriends two very wonderful people who are able to bring Lale food he wouldn’t be able to get anywhere since the war began. He begins storing the food to distribute to the prisoners at Auschwitz. He ends up asking the German soldier for a favor after he notices Lale is very interested in Gita. The German soldier delivers messages to Gita for Lale and allows Lale some leniency other prisoners aren’t able to have. Lale and Gita’s relationship flourishes and he is even able to get Gita a job working indoors to help keep her from working in extremely cold temperatures. Lale always promises Gita that they will make it out alive and build a life together – a normal life. Gita has a hard time believing him, but never gives up hope that they will eventually have a life together.
The story follows Lale and Gita as they try to survive Auschwitz together and remain together so they can marry and live a life together. The book is written by a screenwriter rather than a novelist; at first I didn’t really notice any difference in the writing, but then I read a couple of Goodreads reviews and the reviewers accurately pointed out that the book is dialogue heavy, but the scene changes aren’t very detailed and happen kind of suddenly. They liken the scene changes in the book to scene changes in a screenplay which I can agree with. However, the story of Lale and Gita falling in love during a time of overwhelming adversity and struggle is heartwarming and inspiring. I loved reading about their lives and would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction novels or who is interested in the Holocaust like myself.
I purchased a copy of this book from Barnes and Noble, you can purchase your own paperback copy from B&N for $16.99 ($11.82 for Members) or you can grab a copy from Amazon for $11.59 (a Prime item too). If you don’t want to purchase a copy just yet, you can check with your local library to see if they have a copy. Or you can check to see if your library has an inter library loan program in which they are able to request a copy of the book on your behalf from other local libraries participating in the program also. This is a great option when your local library doesn’t have a copy at all or doesn’t have one available for check out. This saves you the trip of going to a different branch and from having to pay a fee to use a branch outside of your residence address.
Thanks for stopping by my small corner of the web!