Talking About ‘The Tattooist Of Auschwitz’ with Bibliobeth!

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

How did I get it?:
I borrowed it!

Synopsis:

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is based on the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov, two Slovakian Jews who survived Auschwitz and eventually made their home in Australia. In that terrible place, Lale was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival – literally scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust. Lale used the infinitesimal freedom of movement that this position awarded him to exchange jewels and money taken from murdered Jews for food to keep others alive. If he had been caught, he would have been killed; many owed him their survival.

There have been many books about the Holocaust – and there will be many more. What makes this one so memorable is Lale Sokolov’s incredible zest for life. He understood exactly what was in store for him and his fellow prisoners, and he was determined to survive – not just to survive but to leave the camp with his dignity and integrity intact, to live his life to the full. Terrible though this story is, it is also a story of hope and of courage. It is also – almost unbelievably – a love story. Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale – a dandy, a jack-the-lad, a bit of a chancer – it was love at first sight, and he determined not only to survive himself but to ensure that Gita did, too. His story – their story – will make you weep, but you will also find it uplifting. It shows the very best of humanity in the very worst of circumstances.

Like many survivors, Lale and Gita told few people their story after the war. They eventually made their way to Australia, where they raised a son and had a successful life. But when Gita died, Lale felt he could no longer carry the burden of their past alone. He chose to tell his story.

CHRISSI: This book has sensitive content. We’ve both read books about WWII before. How does this book compare to others in its genre?

BETH: I think any book about World War II and the atrocities of The Holocaust is always going to be difficult to read but it’s actually one of my preferred periods of history to read about. I like hard-hitting topics that make me think and appreciate my own life a bit better and generally, whenever I read a book in this genre, I find out something brand new every single time. I thought it was a fascinating story that was all the more poignant for being based on real-life individuals. It was all the more unique for being told from the perspective of a character who was forced to tattoo those terrible numbers on the prisoners in Auschwitz. If I compared it to other books based around the same period like The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much as the Boyne but it’s still an excellent read in the genre.

BETH: Had Gita and Lale met in a more conventional way, would they have developed the same kind of relationship? How did their circumstances change the course of their romance?

CHRISSI: Hmm. A really interesting question there. I’m not so sure they would have developed such an intense relationship. I feel that the environment they were in pushed them together and made them feel deeper than they may have done if they had met in a conventional way. They pretty much felt a connection instantly and didn’t really have outside influences that could change the course of their relationship.

CHRISSI: Did this book make more of an impact on you because it was based on a true story from that time?

BETH: For sure. I hadn’t realised when I first read the synopsis that it was based on people that actually existed and when you realise this as a reader, it automatically makes the novel even more moving and impactful. However, I think I was touched most by the extra parts of the novel i.e. the afterwords written by the author after the story ends. In particular, she talks about how she met Lale and what his drive was for getting this story published. To meet the man behind the character was a touch of brilliance and very emotional to read.

BETH: In what ways was Lale a hero? In what ways was he an ordinary man?

CHRISSI: I personally think that any person that experienced the Holocaust is a pretty heroic individual to me. I think Lale’s story is impressive because he tried to help those in need even though he was in a high place compared to others in the camp. I do think that Lale was quite selfless and wanted to improve lives of others that were struggling, despite the fact that it could get him into trouble. As for being an ordinary man? I think he had inner strength like many of us do, it’s just hidden sometimes.

CHRISSI: How did you feel about Lale when he was first introduced, as he arrived in Auschwitz? How did your understanding of him change throughout the novel?

BETH: This sounds terrible to say but I didn’t really like Lale when he was first introduced in the novel. He seemed quite cocksure and I didn’t particularly gel with his attitude towards women. He didn’t have a bad attitude, I hasten to add. In fact, he loved all women unreservedly. However, it was the way in which he was keen to share this with the reader that I didn’t really buy into. As he progresses through the novel, we see how much he suffers, watch him falling in love (even though it was pretty instantaneous and I wasn’t too sure about this part) but it’s his selflessness and determination to make life better for all other prisoners that I really ending up admiring and respecting about his character in the end.

BETH: How does this novel change your perceptions about the Holocaust in particular, and war in general? What implications does this book hold for our own time?

CHRISSI: I’m not so sure that it’s changed my perceptions of the Holocaust. I still think it was an awful, awful time (even though I do like to read about it!) What I did like about this book was that it gave a different, more hopeful approach. The fact that Lale went above and beyond for those suffering really made my heart happy. I love acts of kindness. I certainly think we could all learn from those acts of kindness that were carried out in recent times.

CHRISSI: Discuss some of the small acts of humanity carried out by individuals in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. How did these small acts of kindness have greater implications?

BETH: I don’t think any of us in the present time can ever imagine what it was like to be in a Nazi concentration camp and how difficult and brutal the conditions were for the prisoners. One of the things I enjoyed most about this novel was the risk certain individuals took, especially considering that they could have lost their own lives in the process just to make another person more comfortable or safe. The viciousness of the German guards never fails to shock and appal me but it’s through these tiny acts of kindness that you start to see hope for the human race in the future. It’s amazing how such tiny things can make a world of difference to someone suffering and it was truly heart-warming.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I think so. I did enjoy the author’s writing style and I tore through it!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: Yes! 3.5 stars

CHRISSI: Yes! 3.5 stars

The Wrong Boy

untitled

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

Hanna is a talented pianist, and the protected second daughter of middle class Hungarian Jews. Relatively late in World War II the Budapest Jews were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz. Hanna and her mother and sister are separated from her father. Her mother becomes increasingly mentally ill until she too is taken away somewhere. Her sister Erika is slowly starving to death. Hanna is quite a naïve 15-year-old but when presented with the opportunity to play piano for the camp commander, she is desperate to be chosen. She goes each day under guard to the commander’s house and stands waiting in case the commander should want some music. Also living in the house is the commander’s son, Karl. A handsome young man who seems completely disengaged from what is happening around him. Hanna hates him as he sits drawing in the music room. But the longer Hanna goes to the house, the more she realizes there are other things going on. Secret things. Karl may not be the person she thinks he is. Before she knows it she has fallen in love with the wrong boy.

Thoughts:

I’ve always had somewhat of an interest in the Second World War and especially the Holocaust. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I feel like it’s around a lot more in young adult fiction. This is a good thing in my eyes! I feel in some way that The Wrong Boy has been lost in many 2014 releases. It should definitely be read more widely. It’s such a touching read. It’s not an easy read, of course it won’t be, but it’s one of the best fictional accounts of the Holocaust that I’ve read.

Given the title of this book, I really expected The Wrong Boy to be a romance set in the Second World War. There is romance involved in The Wrong Boy, but it’s certainly not in the forefront, so please don’t be put off, if you’re avoiding this book because of a potential romance! I found The Wrong Boy to be absolutely gripping and emotional.

The Wrong Boy is brutal with its presentation of the Holocaust. I really surprised when an author can still shock me with the way Jews were treated in the concentration camps. It sickens me. Suzy Zail’s writing just confirmed to me how much I despise the way Jews were treated and how much I hope nothing like the Holocaust happens again in the future. It’s so sad that it did happen.

The Wrong Boy does include fictional characters, yet they feel so real. Our protagonist Hanna, is an amazingly strong character. She cares for her mother and her sister after their father has been separated from them. Hanna goes through tough times, just like her family, but she never lets it get her down and is determined to provide for her family, even putting them before herself. I loved how selfless Hanna was. If she took a bit of food, it would be for her family. Every scrap of clothing, would be shared with her family. She was just so caring. Hanna plays the piano for the Commander in the camp, so she is somewhat treated ‘better’ than the rest of the camp. Hanna gets the opportunity to play piano for the camp’s Commander. She does so because she believes it will help her family to survive. I think this took great courage on Hanna’s part. Again, displaying her selflessness.

After I had finished the story (feeling incredibly moved) I learned that Suzy Zail’s father was a survivor of the Holocaust. With this knowledge, I can’t believe how hard it must have been for Suzy to write this book. Her writing is incredibly powerful, and knowing that part of that history is so close to her heart, makes even more of an impact on me. I obviously can’t comment on how accurate her portrayal was, but as Suzy believes if people are writing about it, then hopefully it will never be repeated again.

I’m so glad that I got to know about this book, because it is already one of my favourites of the year. I think it’s incredibly emotional, but an important read. I think anyone with an interest in the Holocaust would devour this well-written, touching book.

Would I recommend it?:
Without a doubt!

Talking About ‘The Storyteller’ with Bibliobeth

15753740

How did I get it?:
Borrowed it from Beth!

Synopsis:

Sage Singer befriends an old man who’s particularly beloved in her community. Josef Weber is everyone’s favorite retired teacher and Little League coach. They strike up a friendship at the bakery where Sage works. One day he asks Sage for a favor: to kill him. Shocked, Sage refuses…and then he confesses his darkest secret – he deserves to die, because he was a Nazi SS guard. Complicating the matter? Sage’s grandmother is a Holocaust survivor.

What do you do when evil lives next door? Can someone who’s committed a truly heinous act ever atone for it with subsequent good behavior? Should you offer forgiveness to someone if you aren’t the party who was wronged? And most of all – if Sage even considers his request – is it murder, or justice?

Thoughts:

Chrissi: The Storyteller is emotional from the get go. Did it affect your reading experience?

Beth: I have to say it definitely did. A word that would describe it perfectly is “intense.” I haven’t read much about the Holocaust yet, as just the mere thought of it disgusts me but I was interested to read this book by Jodi Picoult as I haven’t enjoyed her latest books as much as I thought I would. (My Sisters Keeper remains one of my all time favourite books). What I wasn’t expected is the emotional roller-coaster ride of emotions that this novel took me on. At times I had to put the book down and remind myself to breathe because I was so enraptured and emotionally drained by the story.

Beth: How did you feel about the characters in this story? Any favourites?

Chrissi:  I thought the characters were really strong in this book.  They were really well developed and carefully considered. I particularly liked Sage. I thought she was a strong character.  I actually preferred reading from her point of view. I really felt for her. I did think that we could’ve heard more from Minka and Josef’s point of view.  But, because I really liked Sage, it didn’t matter to much to me.

Chrissi: The Storyteller uses multiple points of view. Do you think this worked?

Beth: To be perfectly honest, I think this book would have worked without the multiple points of view. The story is strong enough and written in such a way that we didn’t need multiple narrators. Not that this is a bad thing, and it didn’t take anything away from the story, but I didn’t get any more out of it because it used different points of view. Does that make any sense?!

Beth: How did the author explore sibling relationships in this story? i.e. Sage and her sisters, Minka and her sister Basia, Franz and his brother Reiner.

Chrissi:  I think it was interesting to see so many sibling relationships within the story. I got the impression that Jodi really wanted to explore the complexities of sibling relationships. There can often be much resentment and jealousy, especially when parents seem to favour one over the other (Franz and Reiner).

Chrissi: “Truth is so much harder than fiction.” Do you agree with this statement in relation to reading a book about such a contentious issue? Is reading about something that actually happened in history a lot harder than reading about something that’s made up?

Beth: That’s a tricky one. I think it probably depends on the author and how well they write. Saying that though, I think one of the reasons I was so emotionally affected by this book is because it actually happened. And that there are still people out there denying it. It’s crazy. Its obvious by the amount of detail in the book though that the author has done her research meticulously, and it was probably harder to write than it was to read.

Beth: Have you read any previous material about the Holocaust (fiction or non-fiction)? Would reading this book make you want to read more about it?

Chrissi: I have read other books about the Holocaust. Mainly fiction, it has to be said. I did think ‘Oh here we go again…’ when I started it, because I really thought it was going to be just another book about the Holocaust. I don’t know why I thought that though as everything that I’ve read about the Holocaust, has been powerful and compelling. The same goes for The Storyteller.

Chrissi: “Forgiving isn’t something you do for someone else. It’s something you do for yourself.” Do you agree with this? Can you ever forgive and forget?

Beth: I definitely agree with that statement. I think that if you haven’t forgiven for yourself, deep down it was always haunt you and return to worry you. But I also think that although we have the capacity to forgive other people, I don’t think it’s half as easy to forget, and the experience may always stay with you because of this.

Beth: I never saw the ending coming. Did you?

Chrissi: Definitely not. I have in the past found some of Jodi Picoult’s novels to be a bit predictable. I was very glad that I couldn’t see what was going to happen coming. I love that shocking moment when all is revealed and you had no idea! That moment really shows that it’s been a really good book!

Chrissi: Would you have forgiven Josef? Why do you think Josef lied?

Beth: Hoping to not come across as cold and unfeeling but no, I don’t think I would have been able to forgive Josef. The atrocities that were committed against Jews were so disgusting and diabolical that I think it would be very difficult for anyone to forgive. As for why Josef lied, I think in the end he was just protecting his brother, and was looking for atonement for his own mistakes.

Beth: How does this book differ from other works you have read by the author?

Chrissi:  Something that massively stands out for me is that there’s no trial. It might sound stupid, but I’ve felt like every recent Jodi Picoult book has followed the same formula. I liked that there was a Jodi Picoult change of direction!

Would you recommend it?:

Beth: Without a doubt!

Chrissi: Of course!