Monthly Archives: September 2019

The Tattooist of Auschwitz: historical fiction

Auschwitz, the name sends a chill of terror up the spine.  The word expresses the deepest depth of inhumanity. There are innumerable books about the Holocaust, none of them easy to read, all of them, a reminder of what man is capable of doing – and must never be repeated. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a glimpse into the true life of one prisoner, Lale Sokolov expressed as a work of historical fiction. One man, among the millions, submerged involuntarily into Dante’s darkest circle of hell.

The story is told in plain simple dialogue. In my mind it reflects the atmosphere – the nonstop hum of danger much like the electrified fence. Communication between the imprisoned had to be sparse and reflect deep meaning in a short amount of time. A glance, a touch, a need to find a kernel of hope for survival in a field of despair. It reflects the motto – Save the one, save the world.

The setting and circumstances of  Konzentrationslager (KL) Auschwitzcan play a harsh backdrop. The cruelty hard to read.

His job in the camp as the Tätowierer offered him special privileges such as freedom to roam in the camp, a private room, and extra food rations. This was a mixed blessing – he was scorned by those who saw him as a cohort of the Germans and worshiped for those he smuggled extra food and traded black market items to the guards in exchange for favors for others

Yet at the heart of the story is optimism. A tale of one extraordinary man who knew six languages and used his wily curiosity and daredevil spirit to survive the Holocaust. Within the confines of the world’s most horrific death camp complex, he discovered his life-long love, Gita.

As much as this is a love story between Lale and Gita, it is also a love story of human dignity and compassion. It shows the amazing ways those suffering and dying prisoners extended a helping hand of kindness to one another in the hopes of saving the one – someone to tell their story to the future.

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SOMETIMES I LIE

Where to begin. Perhaps with the truth. Some people are going to love the sneaky slow twisty evil of this psychological novel set in England.

Others will prefer more structure; books that open with an evil event in the first chapter followed by the introduction of the “Sherlock Holmes” character with a nose for clues and the slyness of Columbo. A satisfying conclusion with justice served.

Pure and simple. Sometimes I Lie is a masterful head fake. To describe the book too intimately would ruin it for the next reader. In this case, my local bookclub.

NOW, BEFORE, and THEN. The story weaves its way through three time periods causing whiplash. The atmosphere of the whole book is heavy, dark, and claustrophobic. There is the feeling that everything is seen through heavy gauze – you ask yourself -do you really understand what is going on?

NOW we meet the paralyzed Amber and crawl inside her head. She awakens to discover that she can not move, speak or open her eyes. She is fully present but unable to communicate. At first she is unable to figure out what happened to her. As she listens to conversations around her she begins to put together the edges of a bizarre jigsaw puzzle – does this jigsaw picture forming in her head resemble reality? I’m not going to tell. There are some pretty heady and disquieting moments. But remember- she says, “Sometimes I Lie“.

BEFORE is presented in the form of a child’s detailed diary of her disturbed childhood. The complex friendship of two young girls from two sides of the track. One bullied and the other – her protector.

THEN happens when Amber awakens. Sorry no more clues but things really pick up speed in the book. You find yourself duped, if not questioning everything you ever knew about little girl friendships.  And what an ending!

I wasn’t sure that I really liked the book. It made me feel queasy at times. I surely didn’t like the characters.  That delicious feeling from a well crafted psycho thriller. But I find myself rethinking what does love really mean? Who or what was at play in the events that unfolded throughout the book?

Recommended if you like complex characters and an evil dimension not unlike some of Stephen King’s work.

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STILL LIFE: Chief Inspector Gamache series #1

THREE PINES, Quebec

Three Pines is a village that isn’t on any maps. There is a sense that it’s only ever found by people lost. No one goes there on purpose. They sort of bumble into it. But the people who do find it were meant to find it. -Louise Penny, Author

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Louise Penny began her career as a radio broadcaster for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. After years struggling with personal issues and with the support of her husband, she found her literary voice at age 46.  It was difficult at first. Her first cozy murder mystery, Still Life, was rejected or ignored 50 times before Minotaur Press opened the door to the enchanting world of Three Pines, Quebec.

Still Life, with its the eclectic cast of lovable characters and down-home setting, was inspired by Quebecois places and people. The book garnered immediate popularity and received numerous awards. With the success of her first book, Penny began writing a murder mystery a year for the past thirteen years. Each new book returns readers to Three Pines where we step back into the lives of the core characters much like returning home for an annual family reunion. The characters have become our neighbors and friends. The town has become real. So much so, that ardent fans travel to Quebec to visit the area just north of the Vermont border to capture the feel of the Eastern Townships for themselves.

Dunne/Minotour published her 15th novel in the Chief Inspector Gamache Series entitled,  The Better Man, on Aug 27, 2019. Like all of her previous books in the series, the newest book can be read and very much enjoyed as a stand-alone-mystery.

If you have not read any of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, I recommend  you begin at the beginning with Still Life.  Join the highly decorated Inspector Gamache as he investigates a death occurring in a middle-of-nowhere place called Three Pines; a cluster of homes and a few small businesses. A place known to only a few; stumbled upon rarely, but a place, once discovered is never forgotten.

The First Book – Still Life

Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning miss of Thanksgiving Sunday. It was pretty much a surprise all round… She’d fallen spread-eagled, as though making angels in the bright brittle leaves… Chief Inspector Armand Gamache… knelt down [near her body.] Jane’s gentle and kindly eyes stared as though surprised to see him… Shot through the heart by an arrow.

The Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police force located in Montreal, taps the infamous Chief Inspector to investigate the death or identity the death as a hunting accident. He heads out of Montreal, crossing the Champlain Bridge, heading into the Eastern Townships.  The scenery changes from congested urban environment transitioning to pastoral greenery and suburban villages. Suddenly, off to the side, is a pockmarked metal sign pointing down a rough-and-tumble dirt road. The road dead ends revealing a charming magical scene – a “Thomas Kinkade” village that exudes peace and calm. A most unlikely setting for a violent murder. A place one resident told Gamache she doesn’t remember a crime of any kind during the twenty-five years she has lived there.

Gamache begins his trademark style of investigation – patient observation; patiently letting the story  begin to unfold itself. He parks himself on a bench in the town square and casually watches. We dine at the Bistro, brush off crumbs from croissants purchased at the boulangerie, browse the bookshelves of the retired psychologist turned bookstore owner, rein in the crusty feisty septuagenarian who happens to write popular poetry and discover the home-life secrets each resident disguises in public.

As the misdirection proceeds, Gamache must deal with an arrogant Agent trainee who repeatedly upends his investigation plans. He learns that the victim, a beloved retired schoolteacher and reclusive artist, has submitted her first publicly viewed art work at a local gallery just days before her death, and the murderer, once revealed stuns Three Pines.

The victim, Jane, was prescient, when she quoted the British poet W. A. Auden in a flashback moment,

Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table.

Reflection

Be warned! Three Pines is addictive. Each succeeding book gets better and better. The central characters in Still Life  return in every future book, growing older, experiencing life as we all do with its up and downs. But always, Gamache and Three Pines meet to solve another sudden mystery and we drive down that dirt road to join old friends.

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