Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Update November 11, 2019: Since writing this review it has come to my attention that the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center does not consider Heather Morris' novel to be an accurate, or even in some cases, realistic portrayal of daily life in Auschwitz. This link will take you to a Guardian news article that outlines their concerns. 

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

book cover for Tattooist of Auschwitz shows Lale and Gita from the back staring at the Auschwitz skyline.
Publisher: Harper, 2018
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Richard Armitage

“In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for more than two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.”

(Excerpt from the book description on Goodreads)

What I thought

I am grateful I read this in audiobook form. This is a tough story, and I was comforted by the number of times Richard Armitage clearly also had to stop reading and restart. (Perhaps he too needed to go curl up and cry?) His at times not so steady voice made me feel like I wasn’t encountering the horror alone.

Underlying this story there is a web of people who care for one another, pulling each other (and me) through the darkest times. It is hard to call this a lovely book due to the uncompromising way it explores what it takes to survive something like Auschwitz, but I am thankful to have had the chance to witness it.

Who would enjoy this book

  • People interested in reading novels set during WWII and/or the Holocaust

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