I’m giving this book four stars solely because this book is about a young woman who survived the Holocaust. I think it is more important than ever to read stories about the Holocaust and World War II because we must never let such a terrible time in history happen again.
I am aware of the controversy surrounding the author and her work, but I viewed this book strictly as a fictional novel loosely inspired by true events. While I do have some concerns about the author writing a book about a story that is not hers to tell, I also applaud her for writing it for the reasons I stated earlier. Having said all that… putting aside the factual parts of Cilka’s story, I was incredibly underwhelmed by the fictional parts the author created. The premise of the story was absolutely fantastic – a young woman who survived the horrors at Auschwitz ends up being sent to a Siberian prison for sleeping with an SS officer. Even though I thought the writing was a bit simplistic for such heavy subject matter, the story started off strong and kept me captivated until around page 275 (it’s a 400+ page book) when the far-fetched stories about Cilka’s nursing adventures at the prison’s hospital became repetitive and boring.
In some ways, I felt like I was watching the PG version of an R-rated movie. It seemed like Cilka was comparable to Pollyanna Whittier in a hard labor camp. For example, despite being unfairly sent to prison after living through hell on earth, she manages to spread joy wherever she goes. She’s able to get even the crankiest people to warm up to her, and she rarely suffers any repercussions for talking back to those in charge at the prison. In fact, they actually take into consideration what she says most of the time and reward her with training opportunities and better positions. (Right…) She was just so fabulous, she probably would have had Captain Hadley at Shawshank State Penitentiary eating out of her hand without even giving him tax advice.
Cilka is also portrayed as consistently selfless and puts others before herself. For example, she’s starving but will always share food she receives at the cushy hospital job she stumbled upon after a doctor recognized how gifted and brilliant she was… She initially refused to take the job because her prison mates (whom she didn’t even know very well at the time) would have to toil away in the cold while she worked indoors… She’s also always willing to take the blame for something she didn’t do even if it means receiving a very harsh punishment that could result in death or mental impairment. Cilka is also very lucky because she doesn’t seem to have any emotional scars from being raped by the officers at Auschwitz or by a fellow prisoner who forces his way into the women’s hut at night… and naturally, the prisoner who repeatedly rapes her whenever he wants ends up caring about her… But too bad, too sad for him, she’s got a crush on a different man in the prison that she’s been fantasizing about.
I know this book is going to be insanely popular, and I’m glad. However, I also hope people realize parts of this story is merely embellished fiction.
Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.