Author: Heather Morris
Published: January 27, 2018
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 3 stars
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 over 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.
I have had my eye on this book for quite a while, so when I found it at Sam’s Club for cheap, I grabbed it! Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to the hype. I love Holocaust literature and I am a huge supporter of Holocaust education. I’m not going to say that this is a bad book, because it isn’t. However, it is not my favorite Holocaust book. And to be clear, it is a work of fiction. Jessica sent me an article from the Auschwitz Memorial Museum and they pointed out that there’s too much vagueness and even straight up inaccuracies in Tattooist for them to recommend it as “valuable reading for people who want to learn and understand the history of Auschwitz.” I knew it was fiction when I picked it up so that doesn’t really surprise me nor does it change my feelings.
There are two reasons I’m giving it 3 stars:
The first does go along with what the Memorial said, that it wasn’t completely accurate, even in its general portrayal of Auschwitz. I’m a historian and I’ve studied the Holocaust so I have a standard already set in my head when it comes to the concentration camps and Tattooist doesn’t really meet it. Auschwitz sounded too livable in this book. It lacked a sense of horror that other accounts convey. I had to fill in what I already knew about Auschwitz to get that dread and terror that normally comes when reading about the Holocaust. That did bother me some.
The second reason is Lale himself. Far be it from me to criticize a Holocaust survivor and I completely acknowledge that our modern society influenced me in this case: Lale was a little pervy. He admitted to learning how to flirt with his mother, that his romantic expectations were set by his mother . . . and I just kept waiting for it to come out that he was actually a serial killer! I know that’s such a horrible thought, but it’s truly what I was expecting every time he brought up his mother and their relationship! I get that boys can learn how to treat women from their mothers, and I know that’s what was going on, but it still got a kinda cringey the more he talked about it. Too many times, I thought, “ok TMI! Didn’t want to know that! Keep that crap to yourself!”
I really wanted to love this book and it was ok, but I wouldn’t recommend this to too many people. Obviously if you like historical fiction, you’ll probably enjoy this book, but I would not recommend this to teens or as educational material.
Author: Jane Yolen
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 4 stars
Hannah dreads going to her family’s Passover Seder—she’s tired of hearing her relatives talk about the past. But when she opens the front door to symbolically welcome the prophet Elijah, she’s transported to a Polish village in the year 1942. Why is she there, and who is this “Chaya” that everyone seems to think she is? Just as she begins to unravel the mystery, Nazi soldiers come to take everyone in the village away. And only Hannah knows the unspeakable horrors that await. A critically acclaimed novel from multi-award-winning author Jane Yolen.
My mom gave me this book and it fit perfectly into my Holocaust fiction kick. It’s a small, thin book and it only took me about an hour to read. It’s simple and uncomplicated and I think would be good for middle school Holocaust education. The only thing I didn’t really like about it was the “time travel” element. I get why Yolen put it in there, and it was good that Hannah “experienced” a lot of the things that she heard her grandparents and aunts and uncles talked about. And I have a feeling that middle schoolers would be far more accepting of fantastic details like that, it just really wasn’t my cup of tea. But other than that, I really liked this book.
I think it would be a great educational tool and it identified a major problem with our current education/youth culture. So many kids don’t care about the Holocaust or learning about it and they tend to either ignore or to sweep it under the rug. This book lays out in simple, yet meaningful detail, the circumstances faced by so many in the camps during those years under Nazi rule. I liked it very much and I would recommend it to anyone who likes slightly fantastic historical fiction and absolutely to any middle schooler.
Author: John Boyne
Published: September 12, 2006
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 5 stars
When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.
But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.
This is one of those books that will rip your heart out and stomp on it . . . and what makes it different is that you don’t know your heart will be ripped out until it happens!!
However, before I even start talking about the book, I will say that this is one of those rare occasions that I suggest watching the movie before the book. Yes, there are differences, but I actually had a better experience reading the book since I knew a little more about what was going on. And to be fair, I gave John Boyne some grief last year when I read The Boy at the Top of the Mountain last year. But what he got wrong in that book, he didn’t in this one. Boyne has a knack for showing the other side of the story. He writes about the Holocaust from the perspective, not just of the Nazis involved, but of the children of those Nazis, affected by their parents’ actions.
Bruno shows such a purity and innocence that we have a hard time attributing to Germans during WW2. And where it seemed that passes were given in The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, and some explanation given in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, there seems to be far more consequences in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.
The Holocaust is condemned very clearly by the ending of this book and any “justification” offered by any of the characters is therefore rendered void. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is such an emotional book and I think a new and different perspective on some very difficult subjects. I absolutely recommend this book for anybody 12 years old and older. I believe this book should be required reading at one point for every student in order to graduate high school. Emotional and poignant and insightful.