Originally published in Library Journal, August 2018.
Originally intended as a screenplay, this compelling debut historical fiction novel is based upon the life of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew imprisoned for almost three years at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he served as the tattooist. Soon after Lale, 25, arrives at Birkenau, he contracts typhus and is left for dead. He is rescued by fellow inmates and Pepan, an older French man and tattooist. Pepan teaches Lale the trade, which along with fluency in six languages, allows Lale privileges of a single room and extra food. Lale’s sole mission is to survive the unbelievable horrors and live to see another day outside the camp. Then he meets young Gita, and his mission changes to surviving and marrying Gita. Despite surroundings of bleakness and death, Lale and Gita’s passionate love blooms in the precious, miniscule moments alone. Lale’s story is heartbreaking, yet hopeful. Readers will root for him despite many setbacks to his survival. An afterword by Gary Sokolov, Lale and Gita’s son, further demonstrates his parents’ unbreakable bond of love and survival against unfathomable evil. VERDICT: Recommended for historical fiction & memoir fans for its unforgettable Holocaust story told from the unique perspective through the eyes of the tattooist of Auschwitz.
Emma, a young Jewish woman living in Poland during WWII, is forced to assume a new identity as a Polish girl named Anna. A newlywed, Emma’s husband Jacob is in the Jewish resistance group and he is forced to go into hiding just a short time after they are married. Emma and her parents are taken into the Jewish ghetto to live in cramped quarters with no comforts of home. Luckily, Emma is secretly taken out of the ghetto in the middle of the night by one of the resistance group members. She assumes the role of a Polish gentile named Anna, a niece to a wealthy Catholic woman named Krysia, who is Jacob’s aunt. Krysia is also involved with the resistance but Emma is much safer in her care than in the Jewish ghetto. Fearing for Jacob’s safety, the uncertain future of her aging parents in the ghetto, as well as her own future, Emma must press on, living a life of lies and secrets in order to remain safe from the Nazis.
To complicate matters further, Emma is introduced at Krysia’s dinner party to Kommandant Richwalder, a high-ranking, powerful, and extremely handsome Nazi official. Emma knows she should loathe the Kommandant, but he is sweet, caring, and very much interested in her. “Anna” goes to work for the Kommandant, which allows her to secretly assist the resistance group in gathering information from the Nazis. She never dreamed she would be so comfortable in the presence of a Nazi official, much less spend all her time with him and become his “girl.” As the war intensifies in and around Krakow, Anna gets even closer to the Kommandant in order to carry out a most dangerous mission for the resistance group. Torn between her vows to Jacob and her feelings for Richwalder, Emma must decide which path to take.
When the secrets of her true identity threaten to come out, Emma’s life will never be the same again. The ending will have readers reeling. I cried for Emma, who lost so very much, but still had the courage to carry on despite the circumstances. This is a beautifully written story with a fast-paced story-line which readers will enjoy from beginning to end.
Thank you to Harper Collins MIRA for an advanced digital review copy.