(image from Goodreads)
Primary Genre(s): Historical Fiction, WWII Fiction, Holocaust
Published: 1 October 2019 by St. Martin’s Press
Page count: 352
My Format: free eARC via NetGalley
Would I recommend it: Yes
Commission Link: Buy Cilka’s Journey
My rating: ★★★★☆
Synopsis (from Goodreads)
In this follow-up to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, the author tells the story, based on a true one, of a woman who survives Auschwitz, only to find herself locked away again. Cilka Klein is 18 years old when Auschwitz-Birkenau is liberated by Soviet soldiers. But Cilka is one of the many women who is sentenced to a labor camp on charges of having helped the Nazis–with no consideration of the circumstances Cilka and women like her found themselves in as they struggled to survive. Once at the Vorkuta gulag in Sibera, where she is to serve her 15-year sentence, Cilka uses her wits, charm, and beauty to survive.
This book is a spinoff of The Tattoist of Auschwitz. I have not read The Tattoist of Auschwitz so I can confirm that this book can be read as a standalone. Here are my pros and cons for Cilka’s Journey:
- I thought it was interesting that this story takes place (for the most part) after the war is over. Cilka is in a prison camp in Siberia for the majority of the book, not a concentration camp. This was a perspective I haven’t read about before… and I have read a lot of WWII fiction and non-fiction.
- I love that this novel was based – at least loosely – on a real person.
- Cilka is a strong, determined and hopeful woman. Even when she is discouraged or feels helpless, she still perseveres. She is well-written and likeable.
- Dr. Yelena is a hero. I don’t know if she exists as a real individual or if she is an amalgamation of several people that helped Cilka during her imprisonment – either way, the characterization of Dr. Yelena and how she treated and trusted and trained Cilka was refreshing and hopeful.
- I loved the interaction between the women in the prison camp. How they helped one another get through day by day felt honest and real.
- The writing is top-notch and engaging.
- This book is full of powerful themes – survival, hope, love, friendship, respect, fear, abuse, determination and perseverance – and you will feel each one of them strongly when you read the book.
- Some of the hospital scenes got a little boring for me. They just became a tad repetitive.
- We never found out what happened to Natalya and that drove me nuts.
- Some of the circumstances that happened to Cilka were amazingly fortunate… maybe just a tad too fortunate for it to be believable to me. My summary below talks about how this book has been questioned regarding its “facts” and I understand that historical fiction often interweaves fact and fiction in order to provide a comprehensive story, but I think the author may have gone just a tad overboard in some respects regarding Cilka’s remarkable advantages during her imprisonment.
I read an article in The Guardian (Feb 1, 2019) that stated the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center identified many errors and misinformation in The Tattoist of Auschwitz and Cilka’s Journey. The author has stated that she “decided to honor Cilka by using her life as an inspiration for a novel” and that it would be “obvious what parts of the story are factual”. The author did interview some people that knew Cilka personally (i.e., Lale from The Tattoist of Auschwitz) but Cilka herself was deceased at the writing of this book. I often find it sad that we learn about awesome people like Cilka too late… how awesome would it have been to chat with her and get her real story?
Even if some of Cilka’s story was made up for the book, I still can’t imagine even an iota of what she must have really gone through. I kept thinking that even one of the terrible things she endured would have done me in almost immediately. Then again, I guess we never really know our strengths until they are tested, right?
This is a great story and I would recommend it to anyone interested in WWII novels, post-war prison camps, or just books about strong women in general.
Thank you NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for a free eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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