September 27, 2019
Genre/Categories: Historical Fiction, WW11, Holocaust, Jewish
*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
Thanks #netgalley #stmartinspress for the free e copy of #cilkasjourney by Heather Morris in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Cilka’s Journey is a companion read (or spin-off) of The Tattooist of Auschwitz and can be read as a stand-alone. Cilka was sent to Auschwitz when she was sixteen years old and because of her beauty, she was singled out to sleep with the Commandant. This assured her survival, but when she was liberated from Auschwitz, the Russians charged her with sleeping with the enemy and collaborating with them. Cilka tried explaining that she was forced into that impossible situation at sixteen and she certainly didn’t collaborate with them. Nevertheless, she was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor and sent to Siberia. Above all else, Cilka is a survivor and at the camp, she gains the attention of a female doctor who takes Cilka under her wing and teaches her nursing skills. Even though conditions are brutal, Cilka finds a way to survive and even discovers that there is room in her damaged and broken heart for love.
Just when I think I will take a break from WW11 historical fiction, along comes another incredible read. If you read The Tattooist of Auschwitz, you will recognize certain characters as Cilka remembers (in flashbacks) her experiences and friendships with Lale and others while detained at Auschwitz. However, if you haven’t read Tattooist, Cilka’s Journey can be read as a stand-alone.
Memorable Character: Cilka’s beauty most likely saves her life, but it also puts her in a position to be noticed and used by powerful men. She survives continuous sexual abuse by shutting herself off from feeling anything (through disassociation) and allowing her mind to go into a blank and dark space. Cilka has a strong sense that no matter how difficult the circumstances, she will eventually survive. This doesn’t minimize the fact that she faces occasional periods of hopelessness and discouragement. She has the strength, determination, and grit to pull herself through again and again and again. At one point she acknowledges that she is “exhausted by hope.” During the years she is used sexually by a powerful man, she meets a woman doctor whom she admires and trusts. This doctor helps Cilka gain some nursing skills and also offers Cilka hope and encouragement that her life will not always be like this. I loved the doctor and the risks she took to make a difference in Cilka’s life. I loved the trust that developed and the respectful way in which the doctor offered support to Cilka. It was the most beautiful and touching part of the story. Can you imagine surviving Auschwitz for years and then at your liberation facing another trial and further imprisonment? For a young girl to survive this, absolutely wrecked me.
The Writing: I read this engaging, pageturner in two days. For me, it was unputdownable. I have also read The Tattooist of Auschwitz, and it’s my opinion that the writing in Cilka’s Journey is stronger. The writing is also informative as I was unaware that some prisoners liberated from Auschwitz faced trials and additional punishment. Heather Morris did not interview Cilka the way she did Lale for the Tattooist of Auschwitz, but she did gather some first-hand accounts of Cilka from Lale and from a few neighbors and friends. The remainder of Cilka’s story is imagined from historical accounts of others in similar circumstances.
Themes: As in most WW11 histfic, there are powerful themes of hope, determination, grit, and survival. Other beautiful themes include finding love amidst the brutal conditions and building caring friendships in dangerous circumstances.
Recommended: I wholeheartedly recommend Cilka’s Journey for fans of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, for readers who appreciate the themes found in WW11 histfic, for those who look for stories about inspirational and strong women, and for book clubs because of the various discussion topics.
***CW: WW11 atrocities
***This is my Review of the Month for the review collection on LovelyAudiobooks.info
My Rating: 5 Stars
Meet the Author, Heather Morris
Heather Morris is a native of New Zealand, now resident in Australia. For several years, while working in a large public hospital in Melbourne, she studied and wrote screenplays, one of which was optioned by an Academy Award-winning screenwriter in the US. In 2003, Heather was introduced to an elderly gentleman who ‘might just have a story worth telling’. The day she met Lale Sokolov changed both their lives. Their friendship grew and Lale embarked on a journey of self-scrutiny, entrusting the innermost details of his life during the Holocaust to her. Heather originally wrote Lale’s story as a screenplay – which ranked high in international competitions – before reshaping it into her debut novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz.
Do you read WW11 historical fiction?
Have you read The Tattooist of Auschwitz?
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Come back Monday, September 30, for my September Wrap Up.
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