She was the bravest person I ever met – Lale Sokolov, The Tattooist of Auscwitz
Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris is the sequel to the number one bestseller, The Tattooist of Auschwitz. In the first novel, Cilka is merely a 16-year-old girl who is taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. Shortly after her arrival, she becomes the subject of horrendous sexual abuse over the course of three years and her will to live is pushed to unthinkable limits; however, in the sequel we learn that her tragic story is only just beginning. Cilka’s Journey begins at the liberation of the concentration camps. Cilka is accused of ‘sleeping with the enemy’ and is sent to a brutal prison camp in Siberia, inside the Arctic Circle.
Throughout the remainder of the novel, Cilka endures pain and suffering that is impossible to comprehend. At times, she finds solidarity in her relationships with her fellow prisoners, and eventually, her position working on ambulance duty gives her a sense of hope as she meets Alexandr. Their relationship reveals to Cilka that, despite the suffering which she has endured, there is still room in her heart to love another.
Whilst it has been said that aspects of the novel are somewhat historically inaccurate, I think this does not matter for me for a couple of reasons. First of all, Heather Morris has always clearly stated that her intention with this novel was to write a fictional piece of work that draws from the experiences of millions of women who were sent to concentration/prison camps during WWII and into the post-1945 era. Secondly, I believe that the overall message we gain, which is that no matter how dark our history may be it should never be forgotten, is the most impactful aspect of the novel. Cilka’s resilience is a testament to the power of human will in times of significant suffering.
This is a novel that will make you weep and will make you extremely uncomfortable. The careful construction of Cilka’s character (a resilient female protagonist who survives against all odds), the masterful plot development and a beautiful romance makes this novel an absolute must read. I know this novel has impacted me in a profound way, and I know that it will stay with me forever.
I rate this novel 5 out of 5.