Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris
St. Martin’s Press (October 1, 2019)
Historical WWII Fiction/Jewish Literature & Fiction
The follow-up to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Cilka’s Journey is the story of Cilka’s Klein’s perseverance and strength of soul.
Her beauty saved her — and condemned her.
Cilka is just sixteen years old when she is taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in 1942, where the commandant immediately notices how beautiful she is. Forcibly separated from the other women prisoners, Cilka learns quickly that power, even unwillingly taken, equals survival.
When the war is over and the camp is liberated, freedom is not granted to Cilka: She is charged as a collaborator for sleeping with the enemy and sent to a Siberian prison camp. But did she really have a choice? And where do the lines of morality lie for Cilka, who was send to Auschwitz when she was still a child?
In Siberia, Cilka faces challenges both new and horribly familiar, including the unwanted attention of the guards. But when she meets a kind female doctor, Cilka is taken under her wing and begins to tend to the ill in the camp, struggling to care for them under brutal conditions.
Confronting death and terror daily, Cilka discovers a strength she never knew she had. And when she begins to tentatively form bonds and relationships in this harsh, new reality, Cilka finds that despite everything that has happened to her, there is room in her heart for love.
From child to woman, from woman to healer, Cilka’s journey illuminates the resilience of the human spirit—and the will we have to survive.
Heather Morris’s Cilka’s Journey is an insightful novel that deals with an issue little explored in fiction: the treatment of women in the Soviet Gulag. While Cilka’s Journey may be fiction, it is based on conversations with Lale Sokolov (the tattooist of Auschwitz) about Cilka, from others who knew her, and the authors impressive research. Cilka, a Czechoslovakian, was sent to Aushwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp for being a Jew. At liberation, she was wrongly convicted of working with the enemy. She was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor and sent directly to the Soviet gulag in Siberia. She was fortunate to obtain work duty in a hospital under a brilliant doctor who was willing to share her knowledge, give her training, and opportunities. She and the other women in her prison “hut” battled for trust, hope, and survival. At the Gulag, she again finds herself in survival mode over ethics. She does what she has to do in order to live. I found myself fully immersed in this story, a subject I had very little knowledge of. Two weeks later, I’m still processing the story. Rich in history and woven with a mix of real-life and imagined incidents and characters, the story gives history a human face to the awful treatment of those imprisoned at the Gulag. The author did an excellent job of taking history and writing a novel that tells a dark tale, yet honors Cilka, and making it readable. This is a story that tells of a remarkable journey and needs to be read.
Note: I have not read The Tattooist of Auschwitz which this is a follow-up to. Many have said to read that first, but I feel that Cilka’s Journey can be read as a stand-alone. I most definitely will read The Tattooist of Auschwitz in the near future, since Cilka’s Journey was an incredible read.
Read and Reviewed by Comfy Chair Books/Lisa Reigel (August 20, 2019)
ARC provided by St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
HEATHER MORRIS is a native of New Zealand, now resident in Australia. For several years, while working in a large public hospital in Melbourne, she studied and wrote screenplays, one of which was optioned by an Academy Award-winning screenwriter in the US. In 2003, Heather was introduced to an elderly gentleman who ‘might just have a story worth telling’. The day she met Lale Sokolov changed both their lives. Their friendship grew and Lale embarked on a journey of self-scrutiny, entrusting the innermost details of his life during the Holocaust to her. Heather originally wrote Lale’s story as a screenplay – which ranked high in international competitions – before reshaping it into her debut novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz.