Daily #23: Eyes on paper

Tonight, I read a physical novel. It’s the first one I’ve completed in at least three years.

I do still ‘read’, of course. I consume novels as audiobooks – busy days allow little time for reading, and in recent years I always feel like I have ‘better things’ to do, whatever they are. I’ve also read a couple of ebooks on my phone, including the novel of a work friend fairly recently. That same person recommended me the book I read tonight.

It’s quite well-known: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. It’s based on the personal account of an Auschwitz prisoner’s experiences in the camp, who worked as the “tätowierer” – tattooing incoming prisoners with the infamous numbers they bear on their arms.

I was originally intending to review it, but I’m not sure if my views are sincere enough. I’ll give my rough opinion though.

Obviously, the story itself is staggering. It is, in fact, a love story – the protagonist, Lale, tattoos a woman and falls in love with her. They then continue to see each other throughout their imprisonment, Lale’s wit and charm allowing him to game the system as much as he was able.

What follows is an emotional and matter-of-fact account of the horrors of Auschwitz, but it includes plenty of moments which show the perserverance of happiness to counteract the setting.

This is not a reflection of the book at all, but I personally don’t tend to be upset by the contents of books. Not much media emotionally effects me in general, but books allow one to set the severity of events in their own head. I therefore tend to automatically downplay what I’m reading to prevent me from getting upset. This remained true for this book.

Fortunately, that did mean I read the whole thing in a single evening. I’ve not done that in far more than three years. Once I’d got started, I had to find out where the story ended up.

The writing style is interesting, as it ties together a true account and a fictional novel. The voice is very much that of an old man telling it how it was – which is exactly how the author heard the story. Lale’s character comes across in this, with his matter-of-fact way of thinking and quick wits. The embellishment of the character’s surroundings by the author bring this account to life.

What struck me immediately was that the novel is written in third person present tense. At first, this was jarring – I’m used to reading past tense, and it felt like those things are currently happening to Lale. I may try writing a story in that format at some point. The tense, combined with short sentences, created a sense of urgency throughout the novel. It provided a constant state of tension for me, mirrored by the tension felt by the characters in Auschwitz.

After the novel was over, my copy also contained notes about the true parts of the story, giving photographs of the real Lale, and his love, Gita, as well as maps of the camp and the journeys they took. For me, this was where the emotional aspect hit me hardest – as one reads a novel, they create their own version of the characters in their heads. Seeing a photograph of them suddenly pulled everything into the real world, and it made me truly realise that the dystopian-fiction-esque scenarios the characters had to figure their ways out of had actually occurred.

It’s a no-brainer to me that I would recommend this book. It gives you a lot to think about, and I feel like it needs to be seen.

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