Books Of The Month: February

There’s a reason this blog post is so late, and that is purely because I thought I’d posted it already. (File that under “oopsie”).

February, as it turned out though, was a very busy month in general so I didn’t get to read as often as I wanted – but I guess two books are better than none. Although I did manage to make my way through this pile of textbooks in the pic below as well… but I don’t think they really count.

So, without further ado February’s reading list looked like this:

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Based on a true story, The Tattooist of Auschwitz follows Lale, a Slovakian Jew who is taken to Auschwitz in April 1942. From the outset, he tells himself that in order to stay alive in the camp, he needs to keep his head down and do whatever is asked of him. 

We soon learn that Lale is well-educated and speaks a number of languages which helps him to not only communicate with his fellow prisoners, but it also sees him quickly work his way into more ‘senior’ job roles within the camp. Eventually, he is chosen to be the “Tätowierer” or “tattooist” of Auschwitz (and Birkenau); i.e. he has the chilling responsibility of tattooing numbers onto the arms of the prisoners that arrive into the camps.

One day, Lale meets Gita who is in line to receive her tattoo. Lale, instantly, falls in love with her and quietly tells her not to speak back to any officer. Instead, she is to do whatever she is told in order to stay alive. The rest of the story follows the couple as they start a relationship and promise to make it out of Auschwitz together.

Lale’s story is incredible and heart-breaking, and through some of his actions he was able to save the lives of a number of his fellow prisoners. His story is one that deserves to be told, but unfortunately, I felt let down with how Heather Morris chose to share his experiences. It almost felt like a disservice; the struggles and the reality of the Holocaust are glossed over in order to focus on the love story between Lale and Gita – which is fine – but, sadly, their story is not well-told or developed either. The writing is one-dimensional and no time is taken to actually develop the characters. As a result, I didn’t find a strong emotional bond to connect me to the story as much as there deserved to be.

There were a couple of occasions, however, when I was left so horrified that I had to force back tears and put the book down. For example, when the Germans executed an entire Roma community within Auschwitz or when the gas chambers were in use and Lale discovered what was happening to some of his fellow prisoners. 

In the story, Lale is also able to collect rare gems, diamonds and money from those who are tasked with sorting the prisoners’ clothes. He gives some of these to a Russian workman and his son who bring him chocolate, food and other items in exchange; and Lale subsequently shares this food with as many of the prisoners as he can. He is caught and brutally tortured, but not executed.

As mentioned previously, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on a true story but Morris has previously admitted that she fictionalised parts of Lale’s experiences for “dramatic licence”. I’m not sure how much – or what segments were fictionalised – but there were a few occasions when I was left questioning if a particular event did happen, which is really sad.

There are also factual inaccuracies in the book which sit uneasily with me – such as Gita’s prisoner number. I find it difficult to understand how Lale, who was so devoted to his wife, would get a detail like that wrong. Even the couple’s son admitted in an interview that he found this hard to comprehend. So, did Heather Morris change the number and if so, why?

Heather spent three years speaking to Lale about his story but I was more moved by the tribute Lale and Gita’s son contributed to the book. For the few pages he had to share his thoughts, I saw more of Lale and Gita in his words than Heather Morris, sadly, managed to deliver throughout the entire book. 

The Morpheus Factor by Ashley McConnell

After The Tattooist of Auschwitz, I needed something lighter to read so I grabbed the next Stargate novel in my collection… 

I’ve already left a review here, but suffice to say the story was not good. The Morpheus Factor is the final tie-in novel from Ashley McConnell. Essentially, SG-1’s latest mission doesn’t go to plan from the beginning as all four members start hallucinating and seeing different landscapes shape and morph before their very eyes. Every one of them sees something different, however. The locals – known as the Kayeechi – appear to be behind the mystery as they are able to invade the teams’ dreams. 

It turns out the Kayeechi are at war and need to find a weapon that will destroy the enemy – and they believe SG-1 can give them the help they need. The team decide to leave the planet behind, but when they get back to the SGC, Jack realizes he dreamed about nuclear weapons and he suddenly feels guilty that the Kayeechi could use this information to unintentionally wipe themselves – and the galaxy – out. With reluctance, the team are sent back to the planet to try and un-do a potentially catastrophic chain of events. 

Suffice to say, this novel hit the DNF (did not finish) pile at one stage, it was that bad. The concept for the story itself was interesting and did have potential… but it just got lost in the actual telling of the story. The mistakes (and some of these mistakes were huge) also ruined any potential enjoyment of this book, so I wouldn’t recommend it to any fan of the show. Honestly, use your time for one of the better Fandemonium novels instead.

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