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.

London · performance · play · review · Theatre

Pity at the Royal Court

From the very beginning, I knew Pity was not going to be a straightforward play. Having collected our tickets we were sent back out of the theatre, down a side alley and straight onto the stage.

The performance had already started, a brass band were playing centre stage and an ice cream stall had a long queue of patrons. We were invited to pick up our tombola tickets, buy an ice cream cone and take our seats. It opened up the theatre experience and, with it, created a community out of the audience.

Of course, once the show began it was clear we were to expect the unexpected. But the unexpected continued to surprise me. It was a fast-paced show, making the 1 hr 40 running time fly by. There’s a skill needed to keep an audience engaged when a play is in one act and Rory Mullarkey did just that.

From the simple town square, we followed Alex on a day like no other. There was death, bombs, guns, ice cream, a wedding, snipers, actors and statues. Each scene questioned the world we currently live in; the people and the politics. The questions raised covered the why and how to the confusion and the mundane. The world can change at any moment. Teams are decided, alliances are drawn and the bystanders are left to put everything back together again.

Pity worked very well as a comedy, it needed to have the lighter elements to contrast the destruction of the world we’ve come to know. The stage design enhanced the show as it managed to weave in more surprises at every turn. This is a piece of new theatre we need to see more of.

This may have been my first visit to the Royal Court, but it certainly won’t be my last.

book review · books · fiction · literature · religion · review · war

In A Land Of Paper Gods

In a land of paper godsStuck between two worlds, Ming-Mei arrives at Lushan, a boarding school for missionary children in the mountain tops of China’s Jiangxi Province. Ming-Mei lies forgotten, as does her forbidden Chinese tongue; she is Henrietta Robertson a girl of British missionary parents teaching the gospel to the people of China.

Yet something mysterious occurs to Dormitory A, the girls soon find themselves in the Prophetess club, searching out prophecies in the out-of-bounds section of the school. From the hidden lake and caves to behind the washroom, these secret areas bond the girls together and show the innocence and difficulties of their childhood.

Told from Etta’s point of view, the tale is a coming-of-age story in which Etta must find not her only her place in the world, but also her calling. Full of adventure, prophesies and war this is a novel that will keep you enhanced by Etta’s world. Through Etta, we explore not just her religion and culture but her sense of duty that showcases the power a girl can have, in an unrecognizable world.

In A Land Of Paper Gods is published by Tinder Press and currently available in hardback, it’s certainly worth a read.

book review · books · fantasy · literature · review · Shakespeare · young adult

Station Eleven

I may have picked up Station Eleven without a clue of what I was about to read, yet it held a twisted tale and collision of events that had me gripped throughout.

Station 11Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the tale follows the survivors of the Georgia flu virus from their first encounter at a King Lear production to year twenty of the new world. Whether it be the Travelling Sympathy, who spread music and Shakespeare to the lost civilisaion, or the community stuck at the Severn City Airport; small communities continue to exist in an empty world.

It’s a clever collection of the stories of survival, it shows how we prioritise what is left from a community to allow a new civilisaton to grow. I enjoyed seeing how these tales were woven toegther, the switch between the present and the days leading up to the epidemic to show how life was lost while hope remained.

Once started its a book you’ll struggle to put down, and you’ll begin to question what matters most to you in life.

London · Miss Siagon · Musical · Theatre · West End

Miss Saigon

Having played the music a few years ago, I finally visited the Prince Edward theatre for a performance of Miss Saigon.

EngineerThe show started with a bang, very suddenly we were transported to Vietnam, to a life of war as helicopters seemed to fly above our very heads. Opening the show, the Engineer engaged glamour to the bar he sold off his girls in, before providing light relief in his humour throughout the shows darker scenes. It may have begun in a world of perceived glamour and glory but reality soon hit home.

Kim and ChrisKim completely stole the show for me, as she transported the audience in her journey of love, hope, anger and betrayal. She represented the true harshness of war and the reality of our actions. Her desperation to regain control and find Chris in a world so distant form her own emphasises the passion and ability within us all to follow our hearts.

With outstanding music, clever scenery and an amazing portrayal of life in the Vietnam war, this production is certainly worth a visit.

Be quick, the final flight is scheduled for 27th February 2016

book review · books · literature · review · war

Early One Morning

For some reason I’m drawn to historic literature, to be transported back in time. To be able to reach out to characters and relate, if only slightly to events of the past.

Early One MorningSo once again, I’ve found myself back in WWII, this time following Chiara Ravello in the Nazi invasion of Rome. The tale entrapped me at once, with a small boy being passed from mother to total stranger in the hope that he would survive against all odds, as a Jew in the Nazi world. Yet, escape he manages to do, somehow his papers are not asked for and Chiara is able to take Daniele from Rome to the Italian countryside. But what happens to him? As the story darts between the past and the present we see how Chiara has been out of touch with Daniele for a decade. We struggle to see how Daniele’s life has turned out, how his mother’s choice has affected him and if he managed to truly hide from the Nazi’s all those years ago.

Virginia Bailey cleverly twists multiple sides of the story together, weaving between the present and the past. Early One Morning manages to depict the fear, heartbreak and determination of Chiara, the struggles she holds and the story she has to tell. Although I’m only half way through, I knew instantly this was a book I would struggle to put down, a book that will go far and a book I will certainly be rereading.

Early One Morning will be published by Virago in July and I wholeheartedly recommend this tale of resilience in war and its aftermath.

books · fiction · literature · young adult

A thought on young adult fiction…

It’s been a little while since my last post and the main reason for this is not really a valid one; I didn’t think the books I’ve been reading (or rereading) recently would be viewed as valid for a post. They may not be addressed for adults or win numerous awards, but I feel they cover much deeper topics then most adult books. Young Adult fiction allows its readers to grow up and experience its stories within themselves. They manage to encapsulate an aspect missing from most adult fiction; a mixture of emotions and challenges echoed into a new world, yet relatable to most teenagers.

Young AdultsSo with my literature module set texts turning to the holocaust, I needed some lighter relief. Characters I’d met before, enjoyed their adventure and wished to reimagine their story. I’ve spent the last week rereading The Hunger Games to escape my current world and fight Katniss’s. From this, revolution clearly plays a large role of overcoming a repressed world, highlighting the lucky position we currently live in, a chance to acknowledge our past civil wars which led to the Britain of today, or the two world wars that brought harmony back to Europe and the world surrounding it. These are certainly not the first books to introduce such topics, not even the first Young Adult or children’s books to do that too; look towards Harry Potter, The Book Thief, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas or Divergent each oppressing strict regimes and war. However each of these brings a new addition to the themes they introduce, allow us to live through world so different yet so similar to our own.

Without these adventures, stories and challenges, would our generation be one that advocates peace over violence? I feel our literature plays a gigantic role in the generation of its time and time to come. It may be a marxist viewpoint, but I’m certain it’s true. We learn and develop through this literature, so I will not advocate that children’s literature is any less then adults. It is in fact what forms ourselves and something we should be grateful for and pass on for years to come…

What books have defined you from your childhood?

books · fiction · literature · review

The Coincidence Authority

The Coincidence Authority

So we’re got to start somewhere and where better then the first book I read in 2015? A collision of fact, fate, love and war is already inviting me to curl up and reread.

John Ironmonger’s The Coincidence Authority

We begin with a missing child in the 1980’s, Azalea lost in a fairground on midsummer’s day, little do we know how significant this day will turn out to be. As the reader is pulled through Ironmonger’s maze of reality we begin to question each event and its significance. Then with a flash to the present day in amongst Azalea’s extraordinary childhood can the pieces of the puzzle be fixed together? Ironmonger’s writing intertwines all these events cleverly questioning the reader’s sense of reality and fiction. Added together with the political tension of the Uganda civil war this little book touches on every emotion in its quest for answers of Azalea’s life.

This book questioned some of my views on life and fate, educated me on the political tension in Africa and expanded my views on how amazing life can be.

A wonderful mixture of emotion and discovery as we are transformed between London and Uganda from fact to fate as the twisted world of coincidences and explanations follow. This may be a winding road but once you’re on it, you’ll have to see where it leads…

The Coincidence Authority is published by Phoenix and is available in all good bookshops.