Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

I’m still recovering from reading this phenomenal story about a boy who meets a girl and how they fall in love. Simple. Yes, it’s the sort of story told many times over the ages. Except for one thing. This tale is set in the most horrific place ever conjured up in the world – a concentration camp of pure hell. What makes this even more incredible is that this is not make-believe – it all happened. How Heather Morris painstakingly researched and put together this story is incredible. She manages to take Lale and Gita’s story and weave a thing of beauty, survival, drama and love.

Lale is a survivor with wit and determination whose job is to tattoo numbers on the arms of each prisoner as they are brought in to Auschwitz. He meets Gita when he tattoos her arm. Against all odds their love grows as they both survive numerous scrapes and almost death. Lale gains trust from his captives and uses his position to not only survive but help as many as he can.

Heather Morris leads us into the camp and gives a tour of brutality, death and inhumanity. At times, it’s almost too much and then she deftly gives us the relief of Lale’s antics – sneaking a kiss from Gita or using a dopey SS officer to smuggle letters to her. There are tears and smiles as we quickly grow to love this couple.

We are reminded however that history has a habit of repeating itself as with all wars since, continues to cause insurmountable misery and grief for so many. Only a week ago refugees were adrift on the Mediterranean Sea fleeing from war.

Lale and Gita’s story needed to be told and I’m grateful to Heather Morris for persisting and bringing it to us. This is a book which will stay with me for a very long time and is highly recommended.

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Book Review: Castle of Dreams by Elise McCune

Title Pic from Goodreads

Castle of Dreams is an intriguing story about two sisters who fall in love with the same American soldier during WW2 against the  backdrop of a tropical rainforest of a northern Queensland castle. That was more than enough enticement to make me read this book. Coupled with family secrets, regret, loss and lies, Castle of Dreams is a fast paced and enjoyable story which spans the 1930’s to 2009.

Using split time lines, Elise McCune’s descriptive writing transports the reader to the Castle in Northern Queensland which is known by Australians as Paronella Park. I remember driving past it a few years ago wondering how and why it was there. A castle plonked in the middle of the rainforest seems so incredibly out of place. Yet Elise McCune builds a story around it and its history. Additionally, the historical facts around American soldiers who were stationed in Northern Queensland during the war and the animosity by the Australian servicemen was well portrayed.

The mysterious family secret unravels slowly and when you think you know what it is, a twist takes you on an unexpected path. The mainly female characters are well drawn and the portrayal of unwed mothers in the two timelines is contrasted well.

Overall,  very satisfying and if you’re looking for a holiday read or one to transport you to another time and place then grab this one.

Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

A lot has been said about this much lauded book. Its resurrection from the 1980’s with the well-known mini- series has found a greater appreciation and a fresh audience and is relevant in its message today as it was then.

I read it many years ago in my twenties and having read it again for the second time found a new appreciation. This dystopian novel puts us in an oppressed world where women whose rights and freedoms are stripped away are forced into specific roles – Handmaids are to breed; Martha’s are domestic workers etc. Offred is one of those Handmaids who gives us snippets of her life before the takeover by the Gilead regime and what led her to her present predictament.

The writing style, as with all Margaret Atwood novels is exquisite.
“We learned to whisper almost without sound. In the semi-darkness we could stretch out our arms, when the Aunts weren’t looking, and touch each other’s hands across the space. We learned to lip-read, our heads flat on the beds, turned sideways, watching each other’s mouths. In this way we exchanged names, from bed to bed.”

We know from the turn of page one that all is not right in a regime most of us could barely imagine. Yet some of the ideas about the treatment of women are not a forecast but I’d suggest a probable reality somewhere in the world. Who could forget the kidnapping of two hundred girls in Nigeria by the Boko Haram and what life those survivors endure? Oppression and religious zealotry is still rife in many parts of the world. Margaret Atwood does a great job of showing us how this feels through the voice of Offred. Yet, it’s telling is also reminiscent of our past and how far we have to go for women everywhere to have true choice.

The Handmaid’s Tale is profound and disturbing yet thought provoking. If you haven’t read it, it’s time you did.

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Book Review: What Was Left by Eleanor Limprecht

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New mother Rachel has a screaming baby, little support and fears for herself and her child. Coupled with her feelings of desperation is a deep seated issue of finding her missing father which compels her to abandon her baby girl and her bewildered husband.

It’s a heartbreaking story as the author explores family relationships and breaks down what is means to be thrust into motherhood. Rachel, an American, lives away from family and friends with her Australian husband in Sydney. The stress of adjustment is too much and she seeks out her friend in India where she attempts to sort herself out. Her journey takes her to Germany amidst the ire of her mother’s disapproval and her husband’s dismay.

Eleanor Limprecht writes well and gives us a moving yet unsettling story. Motherhood is often put on a godlike pedestal surrounded by unrealistic expectations and what new mother can’t identify with this? We feel for Rachel yet want her to desperately to come to her senses and this makes for a page turner. The discovery about her father is a shock although I wonder if her response to him in her psychological state might have made for a different ending.

All in all, an enjoyable and easy read.

Book Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

 

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Kathy is brought up in an exclusive boarding school where the students are sheltered from the outside world but considered to be special. She has numerous friends but her closest is Ruth. When they leave school, their lives drift apart as they go their separate ways until one day they meet in unusual circumstances and rekindle their friendship. The story is essentially a series of vignettes as Kathy reminisces and tries make sense of her upbringing and her relationships with Ruth and Tommy.

I’ve mixed feelings about this book. There’s shock, there’s tedium but there’s enough in it to keep you compelled to read more. It’s because when you really understand what thirty-one-year-old Kathy’s purpose in life actually is, you want to know more.  The tedium is the day-to-day unfolding of Kathy’s memories as a child right down to the minute detail and this is what I had most trouble with.

What Ruth said that time in our dorm after lights-out, about how Tommy had brought all his problems on himself, probably summed up what most people at Hailsham thought at the time. But it was when she said what she did that it occurred to me, as I lay there, that this whole notion of his deliberately not trying was one that had been doing the rounds from as far back as Juniors. And it came home to me, with a kind of chill, that Tommy had been going through what he’s been going through not just weeks or months, but for years.”

There is an underlying horror amongst the everyday as we learn why the children are all there. Once I knew what was really going on, I was impatient for the why’s which never really come and in the end don’t matter. A love triangle forms between Kathy, Ruth and Tommy which can sadly go nowhere. Yet what we think as simple side stories and analytical reminisces by Kathy all serves a purpose as the story winds its way back to the intriguing present day and an end we sadly know must come.

It’s a love story, a tragedy, and a coming of age in a world perhaps not out of the realm of possibility. It also makes you think about what it is to be human and why, for the most part they, like us, accept the conditioning of life’s designated path.  Cleverly written, I’d be willing to read another by this author.

 

Book Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper

After reading The Dry last year, I was keen to sink my teeth into Jane Harper’s second book. Force of Nature is another gripping crime novel featuring Detective Aaron Falk whom we grew to love in the first book.

Alice together with four female colleagues attend a work retreat in mountainous country where they are expected to trek for three days through remote wilderness without communication with the outside world. When they return to their designated point the women are distressed, injured and have no idea what has happened to Alice. Panic ensues and Aaron Falk and his sidekick Carmen Cooper who happen to be secretly investigating money laundering in the firm with Alice’s assistance, become involved in the search for her.

The story weaves back and forward into the point of view of each of the women hikers from the beginning of their journey then back into the Aaron’s present day point of view. It is a clever and engaging way of progressing the story compelling the reader forward as information is revealed bit by bit.

For me the premise seemed far-fetched and a little hard to believe. To put executives in such a situation without communication would be a health and safety issue and would hardly be accepted practice in today’s corporate world. There seemed to be no real purpose to the exercise and the company running the expedition would surely have been more involved. Nevertheless, if you disregard all this, it is an engaging enough story.

The intertwining relationships of the women’s private lives is really interesting but we learn little more about Aaron Falk whose personal story unfolded in The Dry except for his relationship with his father, which frankly for me wasn’t that interesting. I wanted more about him but he was as remote as the wilderness which, I might add, is very beautifully and accurately described.

Carmen who was an interesting character seemed a little out of place and a gratuitous romantic notion toward Aaron left me puzzled. However, the tension between the women and the bleakness of the environment was portrayed very well – I  felt for their misery and desolation.

The second half of the novel is gripping and makes for a fast paced read. Like The Dry it’s a page turner with twists and turns of the unexpected. I did enjoy this novel, but not quite as much as The Dry. I would however read another of Jane’s books again.