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

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Notes On A Nervous Planet

Notes on a Nervous Planet

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Previously reviewed by the same author:

Synopsis:

The world is messing with our minds.

Rates of stress and anxiety are rising. A fast, nervous planet is creating fast and nervous lives. We are more connected, yet feel more alone. And we are encouraged to worry about everything from world politics to our body mass index.

– How can we stay sane on a planet that makes us mad? 
– How do we stay human in a technological world?
– How do we feel happy when we are encouraged to be anxious?

After experiencing years of anxiety and panic attacks, these questions became urgent matters of life and death for Matt Haig. And he began to look for the link between what he felt and the world around him.

Notes on a Nervous Planet is a personal and vital look at how to feel happy, human and whole in the 21st century.

Thoughts:

I absolutely adored Reasons To Stay Alive. I thought it was such a raw, honest look at depression and anxiety from someone who truly knows how it feels. I thoroughly enjoyed Notes On A Nervous Planet which looks at how technology and the media is affecting our minds.

Notes On A Nervous Planet is an important book because it really explores how technology now can affect our mental health. Goodness knows social media isn’t all that it’s made out to be. We only see segments of people’s lives that they choose to share. Yet we still let ourselves be affected by what we see online. Matt Haig speaks openly and honestly about the dangers of technology and social media and how it has impacted his life.

I love how in both of his books he writes short, witty chapters. Within the pages there’s so much insight though. Matt Haig is a writer that really makes me think. I love the advice he gives as well on how to be happier today. He had some great tips that definitely made me stop, think and discuss with friends. Not many authors can do that.

Reading a Matt Haig non-fiction book makes me feel like I’m talking to a wise friend. I adore Matt’s writing style and his honesty. He honestly made me feel like this messy world could and should be a happier place.

Would I recommend it?:
Of course!

Whilst I preferred Reasons To Stay Alive, I still thought this book was incredible. Matt Haig writes such insightful things that really resonate with me.

I Let Him Go- From The Mother Of James Bulger

I Let Him Go: From the mother of James Bulger

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

On 12th February 1993, Denise Fergus’ life changed forever. As she was running errands at New Strand Shopping Centre, she let go of her two-year-old son’s hand for a few seconds to take out her purse. Denise never saw her son again.

For the first time since that moment 25 years ago, Denise tells her extraordinary story in this heart-wrenching book, an unflinching account of that terrible day. What if she had never taken James shopping? What if she had turned right coming out of the butcher’s, instead of left? Denise’s initial hope after seeing her son on CCTV with other children quickly turned to devastation when, two days later, James’ body was found.

His death reverberated around the world and his killers became the youngest ever convicted murderers in UK legal history. Four minutes is all it took for them to lead James away from his mother to his death. Denise took up a tortuous legal battle for James, and it was her astonishing strength and love for her son that ultimately helped to change the way the law treats victims of crime.

This is a mother’s tale of finding a way through the despair to remember the happiness and wonderful memories that James brought his family. Above all, Denise doesn’t want her son to be remembered as a murdered child, and with this beautifully written book, she does just that.

Thoughts:

This was an incredibly tough book to read. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a book on such a sad subject, but I decided to give it go after reading some wonderful reviews. I Let Him Go is all about how Denise and her family coped after the brutal murder of her son, James Bulger. I’m not a mother, but this book completely broke my heart. I can’t even imagine the pain Denise and her family went through. It’s terrifying. It seriously is one of the most horrific crimes against a child in U.K history.

As you read Denise’s thoughts you realise that she doesn’t ever try to analyse the whys of the terrible crime. She never asks herself why the killers did what they did. Instead she focuses on what James was like in the short time he was in her life. She discusses her family and how they dealt with the terrible tragedy. I was blown away by her strength especially through her dealings with the legal system.

I haven’t read much about Denise before this book, but as I understand it a lot of false claims have been made about her. I liked reading her point of view on what happened. After all, Denise was there when James was taken away. I don’t think she’ll ever forgive herself for letting go of his hand but I love how she’s determined to keep his memory alive. The James she knew and loved. She didn’t concern herself with details about his murder.

Would I recommend it?:
Of course!- Obviously, this a tough read with very sad subject matter. It may not be for everyone.

A heart-breaking read!

Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories

Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Discover how Lauren Kate transformed the feeling of that one mean girl getting under her skin into her first novel, how Lauren Oliver learned to celebrate ambiguity in her classmates and in herself, and how R.L. Stine turned being the “funny guy” into the best defense against the bullies in his class.

Today’s top authors for teens come together to share their stories about bullying—as silent observers on the sidelines of high school, as victims, and as perpetrators—in a collection at turns moving and self-effacing, but always deeply personal.

Thoughts:

This book was a really interesting read. I’m not usually one for reading short stories or anthologies, but I knew this one would be a good one to read. It’s so important that we’re talking about bullying because it’s such a pressing issue for many people. The statistics about bullying are shocking e.g. every 7 minutes a child is bullied on the playground… it breaks my heart.

Dear Bully is intriguing because it’s told from authors who have been bullied, who observed bullying and did nothing and also have bullied themselves. Some of the tales are particularly moving and poignant. They also take different forms and the poetry letters to a bully really touched me. Words are so powerful, whether written or spoken and some of these author’s experiences broke me.

I really enjoyed Dear Bully because it was such a raw read. The authors really didn’t hold back. I think it’s so important to read books like these to know that you’re not alone and that you can stand up for yourself.

Would I recommend it?:
Of course!

An important book to read if you’ve been bullied or you were/are a bully!

I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban

I am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban

How did I get it?:
It was a gift!

Synopsis:

When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.

On Tuesday 9 October 2012, she almost paid the ultimate price. Shot in the head at point blank range while riding the bus home from school, few expected her to survive.

Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in Northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest ever nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.

I Am Malala is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, and of Malala’s parents’ fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons. It will make you believe in the power of one person’s voice to inspire change in the world.

Thoughts:

I’m pretty sure most people have heard about Malala, the young girl that was shot in the head and survived to tell her story. Malala stood up for education and I truly believe she’s such a strong individual that’s inspirational to many. Following her recovery, Malala has continued to fight for education.

Writing a review for this book is incredibly tricky, partly because it’s a non fiction book. I have begun to enjoy reading non fiction, especially when it’s about something so important. Education is a huge part of my life. It was interesting to learn about what Malala stands for and how she couldn’t be silenced even when her fight almost cost her life.

I found aspects of this book fascinating and I felt like I learnt a lot through reading it. However, I didn’t expect it to be as political as it was. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy reading this book and that I don’t think it should be read. I do. It’s important. I was just a little bogged down with the political details. It is of course, important to know about the history of Pakistan, it was just at times, a bit too much for me. I preferred to be reading about Malala’s recovery and her strength in moving forward.

That being said, I Am Malala is a touching and informative, important read. I’m pleased I decided to read it!

Would I recommend it?:
Yes!

This book didn’t take long to read and I felt I learnt a lot from it!

Honor Girl

Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir

How did I get it?:
I received it from Walker Books, many thanks to them!

Synopsis:

Maggie Thrash has spent basically every summer of her fifteen-year-old life at the one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. She’s from Atlanta, she’s never kissed a guy, she’s into Backstreet Boys in a really deep way, and her long summer days are full of a pleasant, peaceful nothing . . . until one confounding moment. A split-second of innocent physical contact pulls Maggie into a gut-twisting love for an older, wiser, and most surprising of all (at least to Maggie), female counselor named Erin. But Camp Bellflower is an impossible place for a girl to fall in love with another girl, and Maggie’s savant-like proficiency at the camp’s rifle range is the only thing keeping her heart from exploding. When it seems as if Erin maybe feels the same way about Maggie, it’s too much for both Maggie and Camp Bellflower to handle, let alone to understand.

Thoughts:

I have really got into graphic novels over the past year or so. When I had the opportunity to get my hands on a copy of this book from Walker Books, I jumped at the chance. I was especially intrigued because it was a memoir. That’s another one of my favourite things in a book. It didn’t take me long to read this book at all and I really appreciated that it wasn’t a happily ever after ending.

Honor Girl is all about summer camp and crushes. It’s totally adorable. I really enjoyed following Maggie’s story. It feels odd to say that when this is actually Maggie’s memoir. The graphic memoir pinpoints a moment at summer camp when Maggie had just realised she’s gay and she’s got a major crush on a camp counsellor called Erin. Maggie is trying to work through her feelings and spend some time with Erin at the same time. It’s ever so cute and a little frustrating at points. One of those moments when you just want to force two characters (people?) together. I liked that Maggie had a supportive friend that teased but supported her at the same time. The friendship was adorable and relatable.

Honor Girl is as funny as it is heart-warming. I finished it wondering what Maggie would get up to next!

Would I recommend it?:
Yes!

Whilst this book didn’t blow me away, it didn’t take long to read and will really appeal to many readers!

Banned Books #33- Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Banner made by Luna @ Lunaslittlelibrary

Welcome to March’s edition of Banned Books (a little late, sorry!) where Beth and I have read Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
First published: 2006
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2015 (source)
Reasons: violence and other (“graphic images”)

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH:  This is one of those books where I don’t necessarily agree with the reason for challenging/banning it but I can understand why someone may have had problems. I don’t think a book should ever be banned outright and people should always have access to it but in some cases, it might not be suitable for younger readers. There is however one reason I’d like to point out as I’m confused about it – the violence part. Now I’ve just finished this graphic novel/memoir and I really am racking my brain to remember any specific incidence of violence. There is a couple of slight incidents at the beginning where Alison’s father hits her or her brothers but it isn’t portrayed terribly graphically which I was a little relieved about as that would hit a bit too close to the bone for me.

CHRISSI: I can somewhat understand why this book has had some issues. There’s some er… rather risque moments that I can imagine would be a bit difficult to handle in the classroom. That’s not to say that I don’t think it should be challenged and banned completely, but from a teaching perspective… I wouldn’t dream of having this in the library unlike some of the other books that we’ve read for this feature.

How about now?

BETH: This book is now over ten years old and still reads as very contemporary so I don’t think attitudes would have changed too much in that short period of time. I was surprised at the graphic sexual imagery that there is, I wasn’t really expecting that and although I wasn’t personally offended by it it might be a bit too much for very young readers. It shows a lesbian scene and I was quite pleased that this kind of thing is being included in graphic novels. The other graphic image is of a naked male corpse which again I wasn’t perturbed by but might frighten those of a more sensitive disposition. 

CHRISSI: I’d have to agree with Beth, there are some images that might be a bit too much for some. I’m happy that it’s an LGBT graphic novel/memoir, but the male corpse was a little bit too much for me!

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: Unfortunately I was really disappointed by this book. I thought Alison Bechdel certainly led an interesting life, being brought up in a funeral home with a gay father and coming out as homosexual herself later in life made for a fascinating read. However, I didn’t really get on with the story as a whole, the literary references to Proust and Fitzgerald seemed a bit over the top and unnecessary at times and I would have enjoyed it more if she had specifically focused on the relationship between herself and her late father.

CHRISSI: Beth asked me what I thought of it before she started it and I didn’t want to spoil her reading experience. However, I really didn’t like this book. I thought it was going to be really interesting, it certainly has potential to be a fantastic read but I felt the story as a whole didn’t gel well for me. I was bored at points which isn’t what you want from a book.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Probably not.
CHRISSI: It’s not for me!- This book didn’t capture my attention.