Posted in Historical Fiction, Soviet Union

Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris (The Tattooist of Auschwitz #2)

Publication Info: Expected publication date October 1, 2019 by St. Martin’s Press. Kindle pre-pub edition courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley. Other editions will also be available.

Summary: Although the Tattooist of Auschwitz was primarily about Lale Sokolov and his experiences at the infamous Nazi concentration camp, one of the other memorable people from that story was Cilka Klein. Only sixteen when she was sent to the concentration camp, her youth and beauty caught the attention of a brutal Commandant. Her choice was either death in the showers or to endure being repeatedly raped, but with a hope of survival. Cilka chose to survive.

Her choice kept her alive in the concentration camp, but she was then sentenced for fifteen years to one of the Soviet Gulags as punishment for being a Nazi “collaborator” and suspected spy. At the Vorkuta Gulag, she is thrown in with a mix of political prisoners and criminals. She lives in a crude, dirty dormitory and is sent to work with other women gathering coal mined by the male prisoners. She and the other women deal with almost nightly rape by the men in the camp.

When a woman is burned by the stove in the dormitory, Cilka’s quick thinking and ministration saves her hand. This brings her to the attention of a female doctor who recognizes Cilka’s intelligence. Cilka’s life improves somewhat after she is given work in the hospital. But once again, preference sets her apart and she justifiably fears repercussions.

Comments: Although Cilka’s background story is told in flashbacks, I strongly suggest reading the Tattooist of Auschwitz before Cilka’s Journey. As horrible as the conditions are in the Gulag, they don’t begin to compare to Auschwitz. Cilka’s situation is incredibly cruel in light of what she’s already been through.

While Cilka was a real person, her story is a fictionalized blend of research and interviews of people who knew her or went through similar experiences, as Cilka passed away years before this book was researched and written. But this novel is more than just Cilka’s story. It shines a light on a shameful period in the history of the Soviet Union under Stalin. Eighteen million people were incarcerated and forced into hard labor in the Gulags. Considering that separating families and forcing people deemed undesirable into camps is a practice happening in this country today, this is more than a novel. It is a solid reminder of what happens when the power of a few is allowed to corrupt an entire nation.

Highly recommended for readers of Historical Fiction

My rating: 5 STARS