My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Cilka's Journey can be read as a sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz or as a stand-alone. I haven't read The Tattooist yet, although it's been on my TBR list for quite some time. So, thanks to NetGalley and the publisher, I read this book as a stand-alone. There are some mentions of characters from The Tattooist, and my understanding is that the author received a lot of her information on Cilka from Lale and Gita in that book. However, I didn't feel lost or like I was missing information in any way from not having read that book.
While The Tattooist is a true story of Lale, Cilka's Journey is considered more a fictionalized history based on a real person. Cilka really did exist but had passed away by the time Heather Morris began on her story. So some of the people in this book are real life while others are compilations or even entirely fictional. The same is true for the events. From what I've read, Morris did a lot of research, though. So while the story is fictionalized, there is a lot of fact and history to learn from.
Okay, now that the background is out of the way, I am SO GLAD this book was written. Most people are familiar with the German concentration and death camps from Holocaust and WWII history. However, the role the Soviets and Russia played afterwards with their own camps (and even repurposing some of the German camps) is not as well known. So this book is important for that alone.
This books consists of Cilka's life in a Siberian prison camp, where she was sentenced to labor after the Russians "liberated" her from Auschwitz-Birkenau intermingled with flash backs to her time in the concentration camp for her Jewish heritage. What it takes for her to just survive in both environments that were created to destroy her. The camaraderie to be found with fellow prisoners and the humanity of those trying to do what they can to help others around them. Hope found in the darkest places.
It took me a bit to get into Cilka's story, but I think that had more to do with things going on in life than a flaw in the book itself. Once I was halfway in, though, I flew through the rest. The topics addressed are heavy, harsh, awful...and real. Triggers abound, but I don't believe that should dissuade someone from reading this. Did I mention it's important that we as humanity know that these things occurred and to guard against them moving forward?
So, my review is simply this: Read it. Reflect on the truths this story contains.
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