Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

by The Cowl Editor on December 11, 2021

Arts & Entertainment

Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

A Hopeful Tale of Love Amidst Hatred

Tully Mahoney ’23

Heather Morris’s novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a compelling story of love that takes place within one of the dreariest environments possible: a concentration camp. Although the basis of this tale is incredibly intriguing, Morris does a poor job at illuminating its depth.

This novel follows the true story of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew. He is forced into the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his Nazi-German captors find that he speaks multiple languages, they force him into the position of the camp tattooist, which means that he must inscribe each prisoner’s identification number on their arm. This position brings him much more security and safety than any other prisoner because the Nazis viewed him as a greater asset than his fellow captees. For instance, he is provided larger rations and a personal cabin. He uses this higher ranking position to exchange jewels and money for food in the hope of keeping other prisoners alive, risking his own safety to do so.

It is in this position that he meets the love of his life, Gita. She comes to him to get her prisoner identification marking tattooed on her first day at the concentration camp. He nearly gets the two of them killed because he cannot stand the idea of marking such a beautiful woman. During their first meeting, he vows to one day marry her. 

The Tattooist of Auschwitz illuminates themes of survival, faith, love, sacrifice, and uncertainty. Morris’ use of Gita and Lale’s love story as the basis for this historical fiction novel is powerful enough to make up for her poor writing, but it would have been much better if she used more prose.

Morris instead relies very heavily on dialogue, which makes sense given her background in screenwriting. If she had included more description of her characters’ emotions and features as well as their environment, this story would truly lift off the page and perhaps leave the reader a different person after reading it. Morris’ lack of description, however, makes for rather tedious reading.

Nonetheless, since this novel is based on a true story, readers will be on the edge of their seats, anxious about what the characters are risking for love. Despite the lack of detail in regards to the characters’ emotions, the storyline will be enough for readers to feel their tension, love, and exhaustion. 

Indeed, there are thousands of novels about the Holocaust, but it is often difficult to find a silver lining in them since they detail such a tragic event in world history. This novel finds that silver lining. The Tattooist of Auschwitz reminds readers that survival can be a form of resistance and love can triumph over hatred if one holds onto it tight enough.

Overall, The Tattooist of Auschwitz deserves 3/5 stars. While the true story is compelling, Morris’ lack of artistic figurative language is a source of frustration. If Morris chooses to make this novel into a movie with her screenwriting background, perhaps she would be able to more successfully convey Gita and Lale’s beautiful love.