Adult Fiction book review

Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris


Originally published in Library Journal, October 2019.

Morris’s sophomore novel, follows a brave young Czech woman from Auschwitz-Birkenau to the gulag at Vorkuta, a Siberian prison labor camp. When the Soviets liberate Birkenau, they sentence 18 year old Cilka Klein to 15 years hard labor for prostitution and espionage, though she was repeatedly raped by a German officer. En route to Siberia by cattle train, Cilka is fortunate to befriend Josie, thereafter protecting her like a sister. Cilka endures bitter cold conditions, very little provisions, repeated rape, and humiliation, but forms a rag-tag family with the 20 women of Hut 29. Offered a job in the hospital, she trains as a nurse under the tutelage of compassionate Georgian volunteer, Dr. Yelena. As Cilka’s responsibility grows, from the maternity ward, the infectious disease ward and the ambulance, she feels purpose and contentment despite the unpleasantries of the gulag where she will spend 8 years. After saving the Kommandant’s child twice, she is offered freedom, but selflessly gives it to Josie and her child. VERDICT: Fans of Pam Jenoff will enjoy Cilka’s incredible story of bravery and love.

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