Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Catching up on reviews

First up, The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. This is my 4th. book for Becky's World at War reading challenge covering the category, 'A book set in Europe'.

Lale Sokolov and his family are part of a large Jewish community who live in Krompachy, Slovakia. After the Germans invade in 1939 their contented life slowly begins to disintegrate as the persecution of the Jews begins. In 1942 Lale is removed from his family and sent to Aushwitz-Birkenau in Poland. He doesn't know it's a concentration camp but when he realises this he decides to be a survivor. He's taken up by the Tattooist who has the job of tattooing prisoners deemed strong enough to work for the Germans, numbers tattooed on arms that will become iconic in decades to come. Eventually Lale finds himself the sole tattooist with privileges that include more food and a room of his own. He meets Gita, a female prisoner, and falls in love, he's determined that she too will survive this terrible place.

There seems to be some debate about whether this is fiction or non-fiction. I gather some of the facts presented are thought to be inaccurate, there's a good article about it here. Regardless, this is, obviously, a very sobering book to read. It's written totally without frills, starting from when Lale gets loaded onto a cattle truck with so many other men that there's hardly room to breathe, let alone anything else, right through to the end of the war when the Russians arrive. It is, of course, appalling. I've read quite a few books like this and every single time I end up wondering how on earth this kind of inhumanity can happen. The book may or may not be factually accurate but I'm pretty sure it gives a true account of what life was like in concentration camps, the way in which the lives of inmates were worth less than nothing, and what you had to do if you wanted to survive. We must never forget and if this book, accurate or inaccurate, helps us to keep the memory of the dead alive then that's fine by me.

Lastly, The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale.

The year is 1906 and Catherine Wray is young, single... and pregnant. She's from a middle-class family so arrangements have been made for her to go somewhere for the duration of her pregnancy: a home for unmarried mothers where she can have her baby and then have it taken for adoption. But Cathy has no intention of giving her baby away. She sees an advert for staff for The Emporium, a toyshop in London, and runs away from home. The Emporium is owned by Papa Jack, an elderly refugee from Eastern Europe, and his two sons, Kaspar and Emil, Kaspar being the eldest and most talented when it comes to creating magical toys. Because that's what The Emporioum is all about... magical toys. It opens on the first frost of the winter and closes when winter is over. Cathy finds a home there, hiding her pregnancy and loving the work and the people. She comes to the notice of the two sons and both fall in love with her but what will they do when Cathy can no longer hide her pregnancy and she will need the kind of help that neither are prepared for?

For me this was one of those books that made me sigh a bit. So much in it to love. It's beautifully written, a fascinating story with so many layers. Historically rivetting... the way in which World War One impinges on the idyll that is this wonderful shop full of magical toys is heart-breaking. There are other conflicts too, the two sons are constantly at loggerheads and the introduction of Cathy Wray into the mix is not helpful. I loved one of the back stories, that of Papa Jack and his forced march to Siberia and how he survived by making toys to stop being bullied. It was all beautifully told. Except... I didn't love the book. Awful thing to admit but I actually struggled to get to the end. I didn't want to give up on it as I actually wanted to know what happened, and there is an excellent twist at the end which was one of the best parts of the book for me. I think there are two reasons that I didn't love it. One was that I just didn't connect with the characters, especially Cathy... I honestly don't know why. The other is that long and frequent descriptions of toy soldiers and their battles are just not my thing. (Strange to admit but I was not a 'toy' child, I preferred books, jigsaw puzzles, colouring books and pencils.) Despite that, I still gave it four stars out of five on Goodreads because the writing was superb and it was not at all a 'bad' book, I just didn't connect with it as I had hoped.



(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I've been seeing The Tattooist of A around a lot lately; thanks for sharing your thoughts.

DesLily said...

You amaze me. You have interest in so many things that I can't keep up with you! (wouldn't even try! lol) I've never known anyone who can read so fast and get so much for each and every book. I love reading your reviews.. never stop!

Margaret @ BooksPlease said...

The Tattooist of Auschwitz is one of those books I'd like to read but shrink away from, but a friend has also recently read it and recommended it, so I'll probably read it.

As I think you may know I loved The Toy Makers. I would normally expect stories that include playing with toy soldiers and battles wouldn't interest me at all. But this book was an exception and I was struck by the irony and pathos of a world at war mirrored in the battles fought by Emil’s toys soldiers. And the book took me back to the magic of childhood.

Cath said...

Diane: Yes, it's one of those 'flavour of the month' books. To be honest I don't usually read those but my daughter borrowed it from someone and then lent it me so I gave it a go.

Pat: Awww, thanks, Sis. At the moment I'm reading quicker than I can write reviews and I'm not even a fast reader. I don't know how *really* quick readers keep up I honestly don't. They must feel like headless chickens at times.

Margaret: I would sau that The Tattooist is not at all the worst book I've read about The Holocaust. I can't say much more... it's harrowing in places but also an inspiring and hopeful book.

Yes, I know how much you loved The Toy Makers and possibly that's why I expected to also as we're often in accord where books are concerned. Never mind, just one of those things and I'm certainly not sorry I read it.