Any story set in World War 2, particularly with the mention of Auschwitz is bound to be moving.
Acting as a side-by-side telling from Cilka’s perspective, who we first meet in Heather Morris’ first of the planned trilogy, The Tattooist of Auschwitz (which I’ve read – very good). The retelling is based on a true story, with some characters representing multiple real life beings that appeared in her journey.
Unfortunately, we meet Cilka just as she has been served 15 years of hard labour after being questioned on how she survived death at Auschwitz, only to be accused of being a spy for the Nazis thanks to her spealing multiple languages and ‘sleeping with the enemy’. Surely they understand she did what she had to, to survive?
The novel switches between Cilka’s time before either of the camps, reflecting on time with her family and loved ones, as well as encompassing us in her horror at becoming a ‘thing’ for the men in charge, just so she can survive and gain more safety than she can in the punishing camp.
Much of her story is spent learning to become a nurse in the hospital thanks to her languages after her friend Josie burns her hand severely. Despite the safety of this, the story continues to portray a tale of horror, friendship, struggles and death, as she has to deal with the constant rapes, threats, malnourishment and pain of her campmates and patients, where infants are underfed and there are many stillbirths occur.
Cilka will do anything she can to keep her and her friend safe and fed, but like many of the horrific WW2 stories, it inevitably comes at a price.
There is, however, the consistent story of hope and love as Cilka comes across a few potential romances, but will she be able to achieve a final, happy ending?
rating – 4/5
genre – historical fiction, biographical fiction