...[an] extraordinary debut novel ... While Lale’s story is told at one remove—he held his recollections inside for more than half a century, fearing he might be branded as a collaborator—it is no less moving, no less horrifying, no less true ... it is a story that desperately needs to be read.
Lale comes across as a sharp-witted businessman with a touch of the con artist, smuggling out jewels and currency in sausages and chocolate. Although one might suspect that there’s far more to his past than is revealed here, much of Lale’s story’s complexity makes it onto the page. And even though it’s clear that Lale will survive, Morris imbues the novel with remarkable suspense.
It’s a triumphant account with a resourceful, bold, and charismatic hero who eludes death time and again. Adding to its cinematic potential is the fact that The Tattooist of Auschwitz is chiefly a love story ... And yet, and yet: there is nevertheless something incongruous about this story of survival being framed as an Auschwitz romance ... Morris, in her debut, has created a fast-paced narrative, filled with drama and suspense, and there are passages that are genuinely moving. But one wonders what Lale’s story would have looked like as a work of biography or as a more complex work of literary fiction ... It is often said that words aren’t up to the task of conveying the horrors of atrocities like the Holocaust; at times, Morris’s prose, lapsing into cliche, doesn’t come close ... Some of the most complicated aspects of Lale’s years at Auschwitz are alluded to primarily in dialogue, leaving them largely unexamined ... In this well-intentioned but flawed work, she has succeeded in telling a remarkable story, if not in excavating its wrenching complexities.
...by alternating the abject horror and brutality of the camps — even as much as readers may think they’ve heard the worst of it, these scenes still shock — with Sokolov and Gita’s achingly tender love story, Morris reminds the reader that humans are capable not only of great evil, but also great love ... a story worth telling.
Amid so much death, there is not only romance, but bravery. Morris’s narrative is infused with as much tension and risk as any spy novel, delivering constant surprises ... No handbook exists for survival. But the experiences that this debut novel is based on... shines a rare light on one of humanity’s darkest nights.
To many, this book will be most appreciated for its powerful evocation of the everyday horrors of life as a prisoner in a concentration camp, while others will be heartened by the novel’s message of how true love can transcend even the most hellishly inhuman environments. This is a perfect novel for book clubs and readers of historical fiction.
To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen. The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.