book review · literature · review · war

The tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

It’s hard to read a holocaust story and somehow enjoy it. Enjoy is never the right word, but a book can certainly be a good read no matter how hard or harrowing the subject may be. It’s even harder to read a holocaust story knowing it is based on real events, the true story of Lale Sokolov – the tattooist of Auschwitz.

Lale enters Auschwitz in 1942 having volunteered to report to the Slovakian government as a Jew. He quickly realised that to survive is everything, and although survival comes with its own risks, it’s the overwhelming theme of the book and comes with its own consequences. When Lale meets Gita, his desire to live is strengthened – it’s one thing to live for yourself, it’s all together harder to live for someone else.

We follow Lale through his journey, from his arrival at the camp to his quick promotion as Auschwitz’s tattooist. He retells the conversations he has with his SS supervisor, the friendship he forms with the day workers on camp – throughout he continues to show his kindness, his desire to be more than a prisoner. We also view his first meeting with Gita, when he tattoos her number onto her bare forearm. The power she holds over him is instant.

When the worse crimes are happening around you, do your own morals get tarnished by the system?

At times, Lale appears cunning, using his unique position of power to aid those around him. Bread is the currency of Auschwitz, and Lale shares his extra rations with those most in need. He uses his connections around camp to exchange jewels and money for rations. Keeping and storing diamonds for his own protection.

There’s no denying the sights he sees are harrowing; the bodies of the dead, the tortured, those who have lost all hope. One morning Lale enters a gas chamber, not to be gassed, but to examine two prisoners with the same tattoo. His SS officer jokes he’s the only jew to walk in, and then out of a gas chamber. It’s a chilling thought.

As powerful as Lale’s story is, it’s hard to read this book without thinking of the millions of untold stories. The people who did survive. The prisoners who did not. There’s no one to pass on their horrors, they simply remain a number, a statistic.

book review · books · literature · review

Elenor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Of course, Elenor Oliphant is not completely fine.

Honeyman’s debut novel demonstrates the behaviour of just-about coping. An existence of life certainly, but Elenor isn’t living. Instead, she simply goes through the motions. Flat, check. Work in an office 9-5, check. Down 2 litres of vodka every weekend, check.

One thing we cannot escape is just how lonely Elenor is, she leaves work on Friday and doesn’t speak to a single soul until Monday morning. She’s not just living alone, she expects to stay alone. She doesn’t understand the social interactions, she finds small talk pointless and she most certainly doesn’t get involved in office politics; but that doesn’t mean she can’t be sociable.

All it takes is for an unexpected friendly encounter, a twist in Elenor’s otherwise predictable routine to change not only her perception of life but her way of living. We follow Elenor along this path and her journey towards friendship. She may be a character with troubles and torments, but she’s also warm and surprisingly funny.

With a few twists along the way, this book gripped me from start to finish. I flew through it in under a week, and pondered over the characters for even longer.

book review · books · literature · review

How To Stop Time

Occasionally you can stumble upon a book that stops you in your tracks, a novel that makes you think. Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time did just that.

Haig elegantly mixes history and fiction, allowing our protagonist, Tom, to struggle with the wisdom 400 years on earth has tormented him with. It breaks down the human traits we recognise, and weaves them throughout history.

Tom Hazard was born in the late 16th century, yet he’s still alive in 21st century London. His many lifetimes span generations, from playing with Shakespeare and The King’s Men to life in 1920’s Paris. He joins Captain Cook on The Endeavour but it is the search for his daughter that truly keeps him alive.

There are large periods of Tom’s life where he is surviving. He is disjointed from the world, living his life in the shadows; neither connected to a person or a place. It’s a hard way to live and a lonely life too. But that can change with one person, a single piece of hope to carry you through the hard days. At the end of the day it’s our relationships with others that makes life worth living. Our shared experiences and in turn our shared history. A connection, a memory and a desire to live.

Beautifully written, this is book everyone should read.

book review · books · literature · reading · review

The Underground Railroad

Colson Whitehead’s tale is one of persistence and bravery. The Underground Railroad follows Cora, a slave from Georgia born into a life of suffering and the desire to escape to freedom.

As introductions go, Cora comes from a line of strong women, her grandmother Ajarry, stolen from her West African village, ferociously protective of her three-foot patch of earth, and her mother Mable, the only slave who has successfully escaped the plantation. When Cora is asked to escape with Caesar, part good luck charm, part companionship – the tale begins with the first trip on the underground railroad.

The journey continues to be one of suffering, small glimpses of hope and a chance of freedom — but the life of a slave can never truly be free. Hunted out by the renowned slave catcher Ridgeway, Cora may at times be physically free, but her time as a slave will forever haunt her. Aided by non-believers of the enslavement regime, the underground railroad becomes a symbol of hope, of kindness and most importantly the opportunity of freedom -— it’s a long ride to take.

An incredible tale of desire and truth, of raising the coloured question when the coloured question was at its most dangerous. It shows the strength of slaves and abolitionists alike, in a quest for freedom that can still be felt today.

book review · books · fiction · literature · review · Shakespeare

Hag-Seed

Margret Atwood introduces her Shakespearean spin-off in this clever tale; beautifully captivating the strength and hope of human life.

We begin with the Felix putting on The Tempest at a Canadian theatre festival, but things quickly don’t go to plan. While he is ousted by a colleague he goes off the grid for a quiet life, plotting revenge as he goes. His own daughter, Miranda, echoed as a ghost in his small abode follows him as he begins to work under a pseudonym.

The story opens out into a tale of hope, of humans pushed to the edge as Felix begins a production of the Tempest inside a correctional facility. Inspiring the inmates to put on the show in time for a visit from his previous colleague Tony. A slice of revenge served twelve years later… what could possibly go wrong?

A clever portrayal of human emotions wrapped around one of Shakespeare’s famous plays, it’s certainly one to read.

book review · books · classics · fiction · literature · reading · review

Love Story

We are surrounded by love stories before we even learn to read; fairy tales and Disney princesses condition our expectations of true love. It’s an emotion that influences every tale, evert text and narrative as we try to define this complex emotion.

Erich Segal’s Love Story is an American classic, Jenny and Oliver are an unsurprising couple brought together from two different paths in life. But the power of love is something that is beyond human comprehension. It’s a tale of love and loss; of gaining parental approval and choosing your own way in life.

There is something in Segal’s writing that manages to capture the character’s depth across the short tale. The writing is at times brutally honest in its depiction of the unfair problems of life, but also the moments of pure happiness are intertwined with more romantic prose.

If you’re looking for a short novel for an upcoming summer holiday — this is certainly one to read.

fiction · literature · reading · review

Swing Time

This novel is an incredible depiction of friendship; of differences and similarities, competition and support. It begins in London at a dance class where two girls come together through their aspiration to be dancers and similarities in skin colour.

It’s a bold book that covers race and class, poverty and the rich, mixing each world together with tremendous ease. Smith captures the unique pull of Africa, the sense of community and spirit that embodies the narrative, in contrast to the bright lights of New York and London. There’s a feeling of authenticity in her writing, a world totally believable and accessible to anyone who opens the page.

The novel is able to explore friendship with accuracy, something that not many narratives tackle. It’s a relationship that is often tried and tested, and the separation that follows is difficult to overcome; when two very different paths are chosen, it’s hard for them to merge together once more.

This may have been the first Zadie Smith novel I’ve read, but it certainly won’t be the last.