The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris [9/10]

As with film biopics, so too with novels tagged on the front cover as “based on an incredible true story,” as “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” is emblazoned. Can truth coexist with intelligent art? Well, I must have grown disgruntled from plenty of filmic and literary “true story” clunkers, for I only tackled Heather Morris’s novel because a discerning friend was enthusiastic, and I must admit I was wrong. “Tattooist” is about the man who survived Auschwitz because he snared the rare, protected job of hammering tattoos into the skins of the new arrivals at that hellhole atrocity.  Employing gently rhythmic prose written in the first person, Morris walks in the shoes of Lale Sokolov as he survives, simply survives, but then is smitten by Gita, a young female inmate. The plot opens with tattooing and then, incredible as it may seem, escalates in tension all the way to war’s end and aftermath. I could barely read the scenes featuring butcher Doctor Mengeles, long my icon of pure evil, but all the characters, good and bad, are deftly brought to life (and often to death). With no fuss or tedium, the geography and workings of Auschwitz (and adjacent Birkenau) grow to life. As I implied above, the author’s prose is not showy at all, but calm and respectful, adding the necessary gravity and distance for the material. I wept at the end. Never forget, that’s our guiding light, and we must be thankful for Heather Morris and the trust shown in her by Lale.

 

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