Cilka’s Journey is the long awaited sequel after Heather Morris’ The Tattooist of Auschwitz. If you haven’t read that one yet, just do and thank me later… my review of that one is here. It’s a story of love that started in an improbable situation, and against all odds survived. I was reluctant to pick this one up for a couple reasons, but mostly for the saturation of WWII, and Holocaust fiction in the last couple years. Eventually, I caved and decided to read it when I reflected on who Cilka was in The Tattooist of Auschwitz.
Cilka was a background character in The Tattooist, and based on a real person. Cilka Klein was 18 years old when Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the Soviet soldiers, but because of her “job” she was sentenced to a labour camp on being a collaborator. The labour camp, Vorkuta gulag, was in Siberia. She was sentenced for 15 years, and had multiple jobs while there. Beyond making a large impact for the betterment of the prisoners there, she also met the man who later becomes her husband.
This is a story is told in a very similar fashion to The Tattooist, which I think readers will really enjoy. The story jumps back and forth between her time in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and now her time in Vorkuta. If you haven’t read the first book in the series, Cilka was forced to choose either to become a prostitute for a head officer in the camp, or her own death. She chose to live, and unfortunately for her, choosing to live meant she had to be raped, and become an overseer to the women who were ultimately going to be sent to the gas chambers. Throughout this novel, Cilka is constantly haunted by the guilt and shame of her past. During her sentence at Vorkuta it seems she is trying to redeem herself for this haunted past. She becomes a nurse, and saves many people. She also tries to change the protocols within the hospital, and succeeds multiple times.
Then when Cilka least expects to find love, she does. This is the clencher to the story, and it sets her up for almost an “happily ever after” of sorts. Unfortunately, this is the part of the story that I lost interest in. I found Cilka’s experience as a nurse much more fascinating. The love story I think is really interesting, because it is based on her real life, but I just found that the writing kind of lagged here.
Heather Morris has been receiving criticism on the fact that it may not be the most historically accurate. Morris has spoken out defending this by saying that she has actually interviewed Lale for the first novel, and then for the sequel interviewing the people who surrounded Cilka. Because Cilka had already passed away before Morris started to write this, she had to rely on the sources that surround her. Not only had Morris done interviews, but she also did her research on the records that were kept at the camps, and also at Vorkuta gulag. Obviously Morris had to take liberties to write a fictional novel. I wish people would remember that the reason so many people read it, is because she has written a beautifully told novel… that is fiction based on some facts. It is a great story, and I think so different from the WWII/Holocaust novels that we have been reading lately.
Anywho, that’s all for today. Until next time, happy reading!