Cilka’s Journey- A Book Review

By: Heather Morris

Cilka’s Journey is a sequel to the bestseller, The Tattooist of Auschwitz.  I have not read The Tattooist of Auschwitz, and I was a bit concerned that I would be confused reading Cilka’s Journey, but that was not the case at all.  This book stands on its own very well.  Heather Morris includes a bit of information about the characters from The Tattooist of Auschwitz.  These small details made me curious and interested in reading it.

I must admit, though, I won’t be jumping right into The Tattooist of Auschwitz anytime soon.  After reading such an emotional story, like Cilka’s Journey, I need to give myself some time to recoup before I dive into a similar story.  I usually like to follow that genre of book with a fun, light hearted and easy to read book.

What is the book about:

The book follows the life of a young Jewish Czechoslovakian woman named Cilka Klien, who is actually a real person.  Heather Morris, the author, explains that she uses the true story of Cilka Klein to inspire some aspects of the book. Therefore, this a historical fiction novel, not a biography.  However, that should not dismiss the events in the story because what she experienced did happen to many women during this terrible time in history.

We are first introduced to Cilka near the end of World War II when Auschwitz is liberated by the Red Army (the Soviet Union).  The Red Army soldiers liberate this camp on their march to Germany.  During this time, the Soviet Union, now under Joseph Stalin, had created “labour camps” all over Russia, mostly in the northern regions.  These camps were for political prisoners, people Stalin believed were betraying the communist state, and prisoners who had actually committed crimes.  When the Red Army arrived in Auschwitz, they began questioning the prisoners to find out more information about each of them.  The Red Army learn that Cilka had been a prisoner of the camp for many years and that she had sexual relations with some of the Nazi guards.  However, these sexual encounters were not consensual; the camp guards were raping Cilka.  This allowed for Cilka to survive all her years at Auschwitz.  For these reasons, astonishingly, Cilka is considered a Nazi collaborator by the Red Army and, therefore, an enemy to the Soviet Union. The Soviets are suspicious of prisoners who managed to stay alive in the camps, sadly suspecting many of them to be collaborators (to the Red Army, this is the only answer as to why they survived these camps). Therefore, she is sent directly from Auschwitz to the Soviet Union to complete a 15-year sentence of hard labour in the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia.  She is pushed onto another train for her long journey from Auschwitz to northern Russia.  This train ride reminds her of the train ride she took many years prior to Auschwitz.

Once she arrives at the Gulag, she experiences many of the same events that she endured when she arrived in Auschwitz for the first time.  Cilka has become numb to humankind’s brutality and follows along with what is told and asked of her. Cilka’s only focus is to survive the Gulag camps just as she survived Auschwitz.

Most of the book is focused on Cilka’s time in the Vorkuta Gulag camp, but Morris also includes short memories Cilka has of Auschwitz to paint a picture of Cilka’s past.  These memories also show us how her experiences at Auschwitz influences her life at the Vorkuta Gulag camp.  It brings so much sadness knowing that this poor young woman endured such brutality at Auschwitz, and then to be forced to undergo more brutality at a new camp seems unimaginable.

Cilka’s time at Vorkuta is extremely difficult.  However, she meets many new people that end up playing a significant role in her life.  She learns a lot about herself and the courage and determination she has.  Every day she fights to survive and live, hoping to return to her home in Czechoslovakia one day.  

My thoughts on the book:

Heather Morris creates a captivating story about suffering, loss and love.  She writes with such detail that every scene seems to come to life; I felt that I could picture every part of the camp and how Cilka fits into it.  What is so incredibly moving about this story is how Morris shows you the courage of these characters, and although these are fictional characters, the reader knows that the real prisoners of the camp had to have the same resiliency if they had any hope of surviving.   Although there is so much evil and sadness throughout this story, Morris also includes incredible stories of heroism, compassion and tenderness.  I also like that it is focused on a topic that many people probably don’t know much about; it sheds light on another dark part of history.

Additionally, this book’s main events, the Gulag Camps, are a very familiar topic for me.  As a history major in university, I chose to write my mock thesis on the Soviet Union’s Gulags.  Therefore, I had an added interest in this book.  


Self Love Club Volume 2 – A Book Chat

I decided to write a post about Self Love Club Volume 2 before I actually fully finished it.  I did this for multiple reasons.  One is that this book is a collaboration of stories written by different women, focusing on their journey to self-love. Books like this, in my opinion, do not need to be read in one sitting.  I plan on picking up the book and reading different chapters from time to time.  Secondly, a very good friend of mine wrote one of the chapters of this book. I truly feel her story needs to be heard, especially by other moms who have similar experiences.  She wrote her chapter on the unexpected struggles she faced during her first journey to motherhood.  

Early on in her pregnancy, she learned that her baby was going to have some heart complications and most likely would need a heart surgery once it was born. This was obviously devastating news for her and she describes what she feels when hearing this news, her fear throughout her pregnancy and then her time at the NICU with her new baby girl.  I should also mention, her beautiful daughter goes home eventually but the whole process was not at all what Lisa had always envisioned for her first pregnancy.  It is an incredible story of courage and resilience and I think it is important that women who encounter similar situations have stories like this to bring them comfort.

I hope you take the time to read this book!


How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division – Book Review

Author: Elif Shafak — My Rating: 5/5 — Genre: Current Events, Non Fiction — N. of Pages: 90

This is a very short read but an important one.  I find that in today’s world of division it is sometimes hard to see where you fit.  To see where your ideas, values and opinions meet.  Society focuses on the “us vs them” narrative leaving little room for people in the middle. How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division by Elif Shafak encourages people of all different opinions to communicate. 

This book was very recently published, so recent, that it includes commentary on the current protests in the United States and the ongoing global pandemic- COVID.  I recommend everyone read this book, in hopes that it will underline the importance of understanding the views of others.

Since this book is short, I will not detail what it is about (the title gives the plot away anyway!).  Instead, I will list below the quotes that impacted me the most.

Book Quotes:

Part 1: Introduction

“We are made of stories — those that have happened, those that are still happening at this moment in time and those that are shaped purely in our imagination through words, images, dreams and an endless sense of wonder about the world around us and how it works.  Unvarnished truths, innermost reflections, fragments of memory, wounds unhealed.  Not to be able to tell your story, to be silenced and shut out, therefore, is to be dehumanized.  It strikes at your sanity, the validity of your version of events.  It creates a profound, and existential anxiety in us.” (page 9)

“… when you feel alone don’t look within, look out and look beyond for others who feel the same way, for there are always others, and if you connect with them and with their story, you will be able to see everything in a new light.” (page 14)

“The moment we stop listening to diverse opinions is also when we stop learning.  Because the truth is we don’t learn much from the sameness and monotony.  We usually learn from differences.” (page 16)

Part 2: Disillusionment and Bewilderment 

“Whether in public or digital spaced nuanced debates are not welcome anymore. ”  (page 29)

“In the aftermath of the pandemic fewer tourists will be able to take overseas trips, fewer international students will apply, and fewer immigrant workers will be welcomed.  It worries me immensely, seeing the walls rise higher and higher.” (page 45)

Part 5: Apathy

“When we are indifferent, disconnected, atomized.  Too busy with our own lives to care about others.  Uninterested in and unmoved by someone else’s pain.  That is the most dangerous emotion —  the lack of emotion.” (page 77)

“One of the greatest paradoxes of our times is the hardliners are more passionate, engaged and involved than many moderates.  When we do not engage in civil discourse and public space, we become increasingly isolated and disconnected, thereby breeding apathy.” (page 77)

Part 6: Information, Knowledge, Wisdom

“Perhaps in an era when everything is in constant flux, in order to be more sane, we need a blend of conscious optimism and creative pessimism.” (page 87)

“It is natural to seek out a collegial and congenial group who will reinforce our core values and primary goals, and bring us closer to the stories we want to hear and prioritize.  That can be a good starting point but it cannot be the entire destination.” (page 89)

About the Author:

Elif Sharak is a British – Turkish author, that has published 17 books.  She advocates for women’s rights, minority rights and free speech.  Sharak is a founding member of the European Council of Foreign Affairs.  She has also spoken at TED Global.

Other books she has published: 

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World 

Three Daughters of Eve

The Forty Rules of Love 


Beautiful Bookstores of Switzerland

When I moved to Switzerland, one of the first things I did was visit all the bookstores near me. It was a bit intimidating at first knowing these stores would mostly (or only) sell German books but, I had to take a tour anyway. To my surprise and delight, many of the bookstores in the area sold English books! Most of the shops seem to be small family-run businesses in Switzerland, which added a layer of charm to these bookstores. 

Below are some of the small bookstores that I have explored around my home in Switzerland:

The Travel Book Shop

This is one of the most unique bookstores in Switzerland because it features one primary genre: Travel. From fiction to non-fiction, all the books in this store have to relate to travel. This shop also sells old and new maps of places all over the world. They have some antique maps on display that were quite beautiful.

Buchhandlung Beer & Co.

This bookstore is laid out more recognizably. Most of the aisles are coordinated between fiction and non-fiction. A small section near the back features English books. Once I began scanning the titles, I noticed pretty quickly that they were a bit different. I barely recognized any of them. It seems this shop focuses on books centred around Anthroposophy, a philosophy which was created in the 20th century by Rudolf Steiner. This would explain why the authors were not familiar to me. Beer & Co. is a fascinating shop to visit and explore.

Peter Bichsel Antiquariat/Peter Bichsel Fine Books

Visiting this bookstore is like stepping back into history. Peter Bichsel Fine Books sells fine/antique books. Some of them date back to the 15th century! As a history buff, this fascinates me. They look so delicate, fragile and exceptional. The old fashion step ladder in the center of the store added more charm to this little space. Although I do not dare touch any of the books, I explore each aisle and love viewing all the featured titles. This is a beautiful bookstore.

Pile of Books

Pile of Books is the only all English bookstore in Zurich (maybe all of Switzerland?). This shop features all the recognizable authors and bestsellers. For English speakers like myself, Pile of Books suits my needs the most, while also keeping the appeal of a small European bookstore.

Hirschmatt Buchhandlung

This bookstore has a fabulous selection of German books from all different genres. Their English section is pretty small, but they have an online store you can order from. Although this is a pretty small shop, they have managed to squeeze in many aisles. Hirschmatt offers the coziness of a small shop but with an extensive book catalogue.

What are some of your favourite bookstores?

Download an eBook today AbeBooks.co.uk - Used, rare and out-of-print books


Beach Read – Book Review

My Review: 5/5 — Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Adult Fiction — N. of Pages: 361

“…when the world felt dark and scary, love could whisk you off to go dancing; laughter could take some of the pain away; beauty could punch holes in your fear.  I decided then that my life would be full of all three.” (Henry, 3)

I want to start by saying I do not like the title of this book; it does not do this book justice AT ALL. I’m not sure why the author chose this title because it also doesn’t seem to connect to either character.  That being said, the title is literally the only negative thing I can say about this book.  Beach Read by Emily Henry was simply amazing. 

I came across this book at a local bookstore in Switzerland.  They had a small English section near the back.  I saw Beach Read perked up on display broadcasted as a new read.  I almost ignored it because of the title.  However, once I looked into the reviews, they were all fantastic! I was on a hunt for a funny, easy read, and this seemed to match perfectly.  I am so glad I picked up this book, it was exhilarating from beginning to end.

What is the book about?

This book centers around two characters, Augustus Everett (nicknamed Gus) and January Andrews. The book is narrated by January. It is set in the summertime in a small lake town called North Bear Shores.  Gus and January are both staying in cabins next door to one another.  January is visiting this cabin for the first time and stumbles upon her neighbour, Gus Everett.  January realizes that she recognizes her neighbour Gus from her college years, she remembers that he often was rude to her, but she always had a small crush on him.  She always felt like they competed with each other, even after college, when they became published authors.  When Gus and January first stumble upon each other outside of their cabins, their interaction does not go well.  Gus is visibly angry about something, and January is mad with the way he is speaking to her.

As time progresses, Gus and January find themselves continually running into each other; they realize later on that the town people may have had something to do with that.   They eventually form a friendship with one another, becoming more and more fond of each other.  Their relationship challenges both of them to come outside of themselves in different ways. This book is a story of grief, love, laughter and acceptance.  It is so much more than just a ‘rom-com’.

My review…

I think you can already tell how much I love this book.  The book made me cry, made me laugh and made me yearn for the characters to fall in love.  Henry’s writing is so detailed that although I knew these characters were not real, I found myself genuinely caring about them.  She shows how different these two characters are, but she also makes you feel like they belong together. The smart, sarcastic way the characters communicate is so entertaining.  The heartwarming story she forms around January and Gus is tantalizing.  As well, the father-daughter relationship that January is trying to figure out is heartbreaking. Simultaneously, the reader is trying to understand Gus’s tortured past with his father. I did not want this book to end; I was incredibly sad when it was over.  Emily Henry knows precisely how to captivate her audience. I had never read anything by Emily Henry before but, I have already ordered another one of her books!

More books by Emily Henry:

The Love that Split the World 
When the Sky Fell on Splendor 
A Million Junes
People we Meet on Vacation (will be released May 2021)


The Dutch House- Book Review

My Review: 3.5/5 Stars – Genre: Historical Fiction, Family, Contemporary – N. of Pages: 337

Why I chose to read this book…

I had seen The Dutch House by Ann Patchett on display at many of the bookstores I was visiting. It is also considered a historical fiction novel, which always entices me. The book is very positively reviewed. For all these reasons, I decided to read The Dutch House.

A little bit about the book…

The book centers around a large estate in Philadelphia nicknamed The Dutch House. The interior of the home is decorated with large painted portraits of past residents and covered with embellishments compared to the Palace of Versailles. The inhabitants of The Dutch House are the Conroys. The book follows a brother and sister, Danny and Meave Conroy; Danny narrates their story. Patchett divides her book into three parts.

Part one focuses on the Conroy siblings’ childhood and their introduction to their soon to be stepmother, Andrea. Readers get a glimpse into what it would have been like growing up in the Dutch House through the perspectives of Danny and Meave. The house is especially important to their father, Cyril, who looses his first wife due to his blind love for the home. Eventually, Andrea and her two daughters move into The Dutch House, and it becomes increasingly obvious things will be changing. Some catastrophic events follow for the Conroy family, and by the end of part one, the siblings have lost The Dutch House and need to rebuild their lives elsewhere.

Part two begins with Danny returning home from college for Thanksgiving. Home is now a small apartment that Maeve lives in. Patchett paints a clear picture of how the siblings, especially Maeve, live without The Dutch House. Maeve has a steady job she likes, and Danny is studying in Medical School even though he doesn’t want to be a doctor. The siblings always feel this urge to go back and visit The Dutch House. They look from a distance and talk about what life in the house would be like now. Danny’s life seems to move on from the house; he goes to school meets a woman, gets married and has children. In contrast, Meave’s life does not seem to change as the years pass. After a close encounter with Andrea, part two ends with the siblings vowing never to revisit the house.

Part three began with some trouble for Meave, which sent Danny into a whirlwind of emotions. This event also brings back an old family member that Danny isn’t ready to accept back into his life. Part three follows how the siblings deal with the return of this family member. It also focuses on Danny’s experience as a father and husband. The ending is quite moving and has a couple surprises.

The central theme of the book…

One of the most dominant messages of the book was the power of love. You see this in the relationships that are formed, kept and treasured among family and friends. The love that Maeve and Danny have for one another is a perfect example. We also see this with their love for their childhood nannies, for their father, and all the new characters throughout the book. The power of love is shown from the beginning of the book through to the end. The different relationships that are formed in the book are what interested me the most.

My thoughts on the book…

My overall thoughts are that it is a good story about the lives of two siblings and their broken family. Ann Patchett is a skilled writer and makes the characters of her book come to life. However, I did find the book a bit predictable, which didn’t allow for much excitement or intrigue. It also seemed that Patchett added a bit too many unnecessary details that made the book a bit too long.

Other books by the Author:
The Patron Saint of Liars
The Magician’s Assistant
Bel Canto
Run
State of Wonder
Commonwealth


Visiting Book Locations

I have read so many different books that are set in many different spots all over the world. When I am reading these books, I always try to picture what that place looks like today and how it would differ from the descriptions in the book. When I read historical fiction books, I think about how interesting it would be to go to these places and see firsthand where the book is referring to and what events happened there. Below I describe what my top three book locations I want to visit are…

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
Location- Kefalonia, Greece
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is set on the island of Kefalonia, Greece. It follows the villagers from World War II through to modern-day Greece. It gives vivid details to the island’s hilly mountains, the small towns within the island, and the beautiful views of the ocean. Each time the author described the island, I had the urge to visit it.

CAPTAIN CORELLI’S MANDOLIN

A Long Petal of the Sea
Location- Catalonia, Spain
A Long Petal of the Sea is set in multiple locations, but the primary home of the books’ characters were in Catalonia, Spain. Although the book doesn’t spend too much time talking about the beautiful landscape, it does offer enough to entice someone to visit this Spanish province. For me, what attracts me, even more, is the history of this spot. Between the authors’ description of Catalonia’s beauty and the historical events that take place there, I realize I would love to one day visit Catalonia, Spain.

A Long Petal of the Sea: A Novel

My Life in France and The Nightingale
Location- French countryside
Both of these books feature more than one setting, but the French countryside stands out the most. The way Julia Child discusses her home in the French countryside would make anyone dream of visiting. In The Nightingale, you see the experiences of a small French town outside of Paris. In both cases, I find myself hoping to one day be able to visit these places and think of these two books while I am there.

My Life in France The Nightingale: A Novel

What are some places you would like to visit from the books you have read?