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Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz


Article by Mary Ellin Arch

Photography by Majkl Velner on Unsplash

The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris

A Holocaust memoir in the “as told to” style, “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” is a stunning story of love in the unlikeliest of places — a World War II concentration camp. It’s not a particularly difficult read, as some Holocaust tales are; for all the inherent passion and emotion in this retelling of Lale Sokolov’s and Gita Fuhrman’s courtship in camp, author Heather Morris’s dispassionate, emotionless writing style reads more like a spartan wire-service dispatch than a novel. Perhaps that’s not surprising; Morris is, admittedly, primarily a screenwriter, confessing in an Author’s Note that she’d always envisioned the story as a movie. And so it is — a black-and-white film, cast in all shades of gray with only the occasional smattering of red, for the unavoidable depictions of starvation, murder, execution, and death by forced march. Perhaps that was the effect Morris intended; I think the straightforward narrative style robbed the story of its dramatic power. 4 out of 5.


A word about Mary Ellin’s 5-point rating system:

Every book review and rating system is subjective. You may hate what I love. My rating system reflects my taste and my expectation that books will be expertly written, with graceful and lyrical language, with characters that come alive in my imagination (and may actually set up residence in the back of my mind, like Richard and Door from Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman). Some books rate low on my scale simply because they are not my cup of tea. Some Young Adult titles, for example, are sophisticated stories as relevant and interesting to adults as they are to teens, but some are not; if I don’t care for a YA I’ve read, it doesn’t mean it’s not perfectly fine story for your average 14-year-old. Another example: I don’t care for magical realism. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Marquez, hailed as the ultimate example of the magical realism genre, is a 0.5 on my 5-point scale; I despised this book, finished it only because it was a book club selection, and didn’t rank it an utter 0 because I recognize its place in literary history. It is most assuredly not for me.

With that in mind, here is a guide to my 5-point rating system. Half-points are awarded at my discretion.

5 – Among my all-time favorites. Nearly perfect in every way. Would re-read. Recommend without reservation.

4 – Great book. Maybe a minor flaw, but who cares? It’s a great read. Might reread. Highly recommend.

3 – Liked it. More than one noticeable flow (too plot-driven, weak characters, not enough tension, too slow, etc.) but still a good story. Might recommend.

2 – Just OK. Many flaws detract from the story and reading enjoyment. Often used for stories that “just aren’t my cup of tea” but might be fine for others. Probably would not recommend.

1 – Didn’t like it at all. Very flawed; inexpertly written, confusing, or both. Had to force myself to finish. Elicited audible groans throughout. Easily forgettable. Would not recommend.

0 – Hated it. Full of flaws, or totally not my kind of book. See Rating 1 above – only worse.