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The tattooist of Auschwitz : a novel
2018
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Author Notes
<p> Heather Morris is a native of New Zealand and now lives in Australia. For several years, while working in a large public hospital in Melbourne, she studied and wrote screenplays, one of which was optioned by an Academy Award-winning screenwriter in the U.S. In 2003 Heather rmet Lale Sokolov and they formed a strong bond with each other. Lale began confiding his innermost details of his life during the Holocaust. Heather began writing Lale's story as a screenplay but later reshaped it as her first novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz. <p> (Bowker Author Biography)
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  New York Times Review

LISTENING TO this novel on my iPhone during the past week - while clutching a subway strap, trotting on a treadmill, filling my basket at Trader Joe's, biking down Amsterdam Avenue, walking my dog around the Harlem Meer - I began to notice how many other people in the city wear headphones as they go about their daily lives. Having recently moved back into New York City from the suburbs, where I mostly listened to audiobooks in my car, I was struck by how different it is listening to a book on headphones while doing other things. On the one hand it's a peculiarly intimate experience; the narrator speaks directly into your ear, as if to you alone. On the other hand, it can be hard to concentrate on the story, particularly if it's nonlinear or experimental. "The Tattooist of Auschwitz" is neither of these. If I hadn't read that Heather Morris originally wrote this novel as a screenplay, I might've guessed: The story clips along without extraneous exposition, and the dialogue is snappy and convincing. As a reader, I'm usually drawn to dense wordplay and complicated perspectives. But as a multitasking listener, I found the straightforward, chronological narrative easy and pleasurable to follow. Based on the author's interviews with a Jewish Holocaust survivor, "The Tattooist of Auschwitz" is the story of Lale Sokolov, Prisoner 32407, who was transported from Slovakia to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Birkenau, Poland, in 1942 and assigned the task of tattooing numbers on his fellow prisoners' arms. As a Tätowierer, Lale was in a privileged but morally compromised position, "performing an act of defilement on people of his own faith," as the narrator notes. Unlike most prisoners, Lale had agency. He was given his own room, fed extra rations and allowed freedoms most prisoners were denied, like traversing the camp alone and visiting both male and female barracks. In Morris's telling, Lale is shrewd, charming and self-aware. The moment he enters the gates, he vows he will leave the camp alive; he notes the Nazis' habits and routines, looking for any signs of weakness. He speaks seven languages: French, Russian, German, Slovak, Yiddish, Hungarian and Polish. This ability is his superpower. Toggling among languages, he serves as a guide, spy and interpreter. He knows what the guards are saying when they don't realize he's listening; he speaks Yiddish when he doesn't want them to understand. He mediates disputes and serves as a translator. Eventually he takes risks to save the lives of other prisoners. The audio version of this book is a particularly strong marriage of narrator and material. The British actor Richard Armitage uses an impressive variety of actorly tools as he shifts perspective from Lale to Gita, the Slovakian prisoner Lale falls in love with; Baretski, Lale's commander; a few other prisoners; and some SS officers, including real-life figures like Rudolf Hess and the notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. Armitage wrings every ounce of feeling, drama and even humor - mostly at the expense of the dimwitted Baretski - from this earnest story. He skillfully conveys the cruel, mocking tone that the SS officers and guards often used with prisoners as a way of reinforcing their power. Even when he isn't portraying a specific character, Armitage keeps the listener engaged and alert by modulating his tone, sometimes within individual sentences. At times it seems as if there are two narrators, so often, and ably, does Armitage vary his delivery. The relationship between Lale and Gita, with its progression from love at first sight to giddy infatuation to deep commitment, sometimes strains credulity. It's hard to imagine that malnourished prisoners with lesions and shaved heads might have had the autonomy, impulse and ability to carry on a torrid love affair. Apparently, they did - in real life, Lale and Gita ended up together. But the language of romance can seem jarringly out of place when contrasted with the starvation, mutilation and murder of thousands around them. The author heads off this criticism by having the characters raise this question themselves. "Is it wrong of me to want to escape reality for a bit?" Gita asks her friends. No, it isn't. And to be fair, Morris works hard to convey the devastating reality of daily life in a concentration camp. Her compassion for her characters, combined with Armitage's riveting delivery, makes this an immensely satisfying book to listen to, whatever else you might happen to be doing. CHRISTINA BAKER KLINE is the author, most recently, of the novel "A Piece of the World."

  Publishers Weekly Review

Based on a true story, Morris's debut fictionalizes the romance between two concentration camp prisoners during WWII. In 1942, Lale, a Slovakian Jew, is given the position of tattooist, tasked with numbering the arm of every new inmate who enters Auschwitz-Birkenau. He uses his position to procure black market items, which he trades away in return for favors. One day, he tattoos the arm of a young woman named Gita and promptly falls in love with her. They begin meeting on Sundays, the only day of rest in the camps. He vows to Gita that he will marry her when they are freed, a boast that Gita is dubious of but nevertheless clings to. Lale even becomes something of a guardian angel to Gita, providing her with penicillin when she contracts typhus. Separated at the end of the war by the fleeing SS, Lale and Gita set out to find one another again in postwar Europe. To many, this book will be most appreciated for its powerful evocation of the everyday horrors of life as a prisoner in a concentration camp, while others will be heartened by the novel's message of how true love can transcend even the most hellishly inhuman environments. This is a perfect novel for book clubs and readers of historical fiction. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Summary
<p>The #1 International Bestseller & New York Times Bestseller</p> <p>This beautiful, illuminating tale of hope and courage is based on interviews that were conducted with Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov--an unforgettable love story in the midst of atrocity.</p> <p>"The Tattooist of Auschwitz is an extraordinary document, a story about the extremes of human behavior existing side by side: calculated brutality alongside impulsive and selfless acts of love. I find it hard to imagine anyone who would not be drawn in, confronted and moved. I would recommend it unreservedly to anyone, whether they'd read a hundred Holocaust stories or none."--Graeme Simsion, internationally-bestselling author of The Rosie Project</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p>
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