The Tattooist of Auschwitz & Cilke’s Journey by Heather Morris: Review by Meilee Anderson
I consumed my first Heather Morris book, The Tattooist of Auschwitz in January of 2020. Though I like historical fiction, I avoided reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris for nearly 2 years. I knew the book was based on real people and that the subject matter would be heavy. When I finally read the book, I finished it in a matter of days. Months later a friend recommended Cilke’s Journey which is not a sequel exactly but a continuation of one of the people we meet in the first book.
I paused at the thought of reading the second book. In the midst of a global pandemic did I really want to spend time with a tragic story? I realize we can’t compare what’s happening now to genocide but I confess I hesitated before committing to the 11-hour long audio version of Cilke’s Journey.
Here’s why I’m glad I read and listened to both books.
- Reading or listening to a tragic tale puts things in perspective. I found myself profoundly grateful for my three-bedroom house and for the security I feel walking the familiar streets of my neighborhood. No longer did I wish for the chance to go to a restaurant, I was content in my kitchen. No longer did I dread cooking dinner at home, instead I was thankful for food in my pantry.
- Both The Tattooist and Cilke’s Journey are love stories with resilience and hope in the midst of profound grief, loss, and suffering. After reading and listening to them I found myself awash in gratitude for my family during the keeping me company during this prolonged stay-home COVID-19 pandemic order. No longer do I wine about not being able to visit friends instead I am happy for Facetime and Zoom Happy Hour. My family was on the receiving end of long hugs for days while I spent time in both books.
- I was moved to tears by the way the women in the two stories treat each other. Women are amazing. We can have profound impacts on each other, both good and bad. The importance of friendships rings true in both stories. A good friend can support and help you survive horrendous circumstances. Both stories highlight women being stronger than they knew possible, and feeling weaker than they ever imagined. Strong, hard, weak, fragile all written in so many ways on the pages of these stories.
Imagine surviving Auschwitz only to learn you are being sent to a Russian Gulag for a 15-year sentence of hard-labor for crimes in which you were the victim, not the criminal! It’s unthinkable, and yet, based on research we learn it really happened.
Cilke’s Journey is narrated by Louise Brealey who has a lovely accent. The afterword is worth the listen. The publisher interviews the author and there’s historical information shared about the actual places and people featured in the book. Though fair warning my stomach started to hurt as the enormity of the suffering that took place continued to sink in.
Both books were profound with chapters gut-wrenchingly sad and others that are take-your-breath-away beautifully triumphant. Both novels are stand-alone works however I do recommend you read the Tattooist first.
Notes: both books come with a trigger warning for sexual assault. If you are feeling mentally fragile right now, you may not want to sit with stories that contain brutal atrocities.
Buy Tattooist of Auschwitz Here.
Cilka’s Journey at Elliot Bay Book Company
Heather Morris: Author’s Bio
A native New Zealander, Heather Morris currently resides in Australia. She got her feet wet writing screenplays while working in a large public hospital in Melbourne, one of which was optioned by an Academy Award-winning screenwriter in the US. In 2003, Heather’s life would be changed forever after meeting an elderly man named Lae Sokolove who had a story to tell. As their friendship grew Lale began entrusting Heather with the innermost details of his life during the Holocaust. Heather originally wrote Lale’s story as a screenplay and eventually turned it into her debut novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz.