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.  


City of Girls – Book Review

Book by: Elizabeth Gilbert

My Rating: 3/5 Stars — Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction, Adult Fiction — N. of Pages: 496

What was this story about:

City of Girls is written as one long letter.  A woman named Angela asks Vivian Morris, the main character, to explain Vivian’s relationship with Angela’s father. Vivian responds to this letter with the story of her life beginning at age 19.

Vivian Morris is from a wealthy family who lived in the suburbs a couple of hours away from New York City.  Vivian is a lost teenager when we meet her; she specifically calls herself “an idiot” at the beginning of chapter one. She fails out of college and needs to return home to her disappointed parents.  Her parents are at a loss as to what to do with their teenage daughter, who doesn’t seem to fit in in the high society surrounding her and is not academically successful.  They decide to send Vivian to live with her Aunt Peg in New York City. Therefore, in 1940 Vivian Morris gets onto the train and heads to New York City. 

Aunt Peg lives and owns a theatre in a poor neighbourhood in New York City.  The theatre is not in good shape and is not really in the centre of the ritz and glamour of theatre in New York City, but Vivian loves it! Vivian is in amazement of The Lily Playhouse, Aunt Peg’s theatre.  She is impressed and fascinated by the showgirls, the dancers, the actors, the play writers and everyone else involved in this theatre. Aunt Peg discovers Vivian’s sewing skills and asks Vivian to be the seamstress for the theatre.  She then becomes consumed with making, fixing and purchasing fabrics for the costumes in the plays.  This is when she begins to create friendships with the showgirls, specifically Celia.  Celia is a beautiful showgirl who seems to take a liking to Vivian.  Celia teaches Vivian how to showcase her beauty, go out in New York City, and have sex with lots of men.   Vivian adapts this new way of life and thrives in it, until one horrible night where she makes a mistake that will derail the life she built and loved in New York City at the Lily Playhouse. 

After a brief return to her parents’ house and a pivotal interaction with her brother, Walter, who is about to go to war, she eventually returns to New York City with Aunt Peg.   She returns to New York City to help her Aunt Peg with a new theatre job supporting the war effort.  This is where we begin to see Vivian’s character mature a bit and better understand who she is. 

My thoughts on the book

What I liked:

I loved the description of New York City in the 1940s.  The glamour, the parties, the social scene all were described perfectly.  I have only been to New York City once, during Christmas time, and I loved it, but it seemed even more amazing how Gilbert told it.

I also loved the fun and excitement that was described in theatre life at the Lily Playhouse.  It seemed like such a fun place to work and live.  Most importantly, the characters who lived and worked at the Lily Playhouse were all interesting in their own way.

The relationships that Vivian made with the other characters were the best part of this book.  There was something Vivian learned from every person that came into her life.  Sometimes people came into her life for a brief moment, and sometimes she created lasting friendships with people she grew to love.  However, it was clear that every relationship, whether long or short, played a role in creating who Vivian Morris was.  I have always believed that everyone who comes into your life plays a role.  It could be a brief one, someone you enjoy at that time, or a life long friendship. I feel this was one of the most critical messages from City of Girls.

What I didn’t like:

Unfortunately, there was quite a bit that I didn’t like about this book. Vivian’s character was just not that interesting.  I feel she lacked depth, excitement and maturity.  I was more interested in the characters around her; then I was in her story.  About halfway through the book, I realized I didn’t care what happened to Vivian’s character, and I found her kind of annoying.  Her character growth was so focused on her sex life that it became redundant to keep reading about. Vivian’s central character trait seemed to only be about her love for sex, and it is tough to keep the book interesting when you’re solely focused on that.  At the beginning of the book, I found Vivian to be extraordinarily naive, but that never seemed to go away, even as she grew older.  She got herself into dangerous situations with men but, for some reason, never really learned from these experiences; what’s worse, she never seemed to care.  I knew pretty early on that I wouldn’t love this book, but I was able to keep reading based on the character development of the people around Vivian.  The book is also very long, and it seems it could have been summed up in far fewer pages. It was also challenging to keep reading when the main character seemed to lack depth.   

If you have read this book, what are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with my comments?


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


Birds Without Wings – Book Review

By: Louis de Bernieres

My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars — Genre: Historical Fiction — N. of Pages: 554

This is the second time I have read this book. I chose to reread it because I had such fond memories of the book, and I wanted to include it on my blog. I thought it would be best to reread it in order to give it a proper review.

Why I initially read this book:

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I love historical fiction novels, and my background is Greek, and this book is about Greeks living in the Ottoman Empire during the early 1900s. Therefore, it suited my interests very well. My sister had also read it and loved it. I had known of Louis de Bernieres because of his famous novel, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, that was eventually turned into a Hollywood movie. That novel was also a great read; however, the film did not do the book justice. Therefore, since I liked the author, it had great reviews, and it fit into my interests, I thought I had to read it.

The theme of this novel:

I believe the overall theme of this book was innocence. The innocence of a small village town in eastern Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), the innocence of regular people disconnected from the world’s politics, and the innocence of children. The book is mostly set in a small village that, for hundreds of years, Christians and Muslims lived in harmony with Greeks, Armenians and Turks until the world’s leaders arbitrarily told them that they were now enemies. Muslims would pray to the Virgin Mary; Christians would go into Mosque’s to pray. Christain’s allowing their daughters to marry Muslim men, Muslim women being best friends with Christians. This is what this little town was like, and it represents what so many towns in Greece and Turkey were like until the war tore them apart.

A brief overview of this book:

As mentioned above, this novel was mostly set in a small town in Western Anatolia called Eskibahce, at the end of the Ottoman Empire. It follows the lives of the Eskibahce villagers from the beginning of the 1900’s through small wars, the Great War, then the War of Independence and the Great Population Exchange. The story begins showing how harmoniously everyone in the village lived with each other regardless of religion and cultural background. You are introduced to many different characters at the beginning, and you follow each of these characters as they weave through major historical events. Louis de Bernieres creates incredibly interesting characters that are intriguing from the moment they are introduced. Each character tells their story in their own chapters, including the real historical figure Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. You see how the changes made by leading men in the world affect this little towns’ inhabitants. You gain an understanding of how the repercussions of people’s actions seem to affect the most vulnerable in society.

“…but in my opinion, as I have also said, everything that happened was made to do so by the great world.” (p 537)

About halfway through the book, de Bernieres focuses a lot of time discussing many of the Great War details, and I would say this is the only part in the book that I felt needed to be shortened. There were too many back-to-back chapters from Mustafa Kemal and one of the book’s main characters, Karatavuk explaining the details of the war from their perspectives. I think this part of the book may be difficult for some readers, who may not be as interested in history, to get through.

The end of the book focuses on the deportation of Greek Christians to Greece. The perspective is shown through the villagers of Eskibahce. The utter shock the Christian villagers face when they are told they are going to their country, Greece, which they have never lived in. The sadness that is bestowed on the Muslim villagers who tearfully say goodbye to their friends. You see the love these villagers had for one another when the Muslim men decide to follow their Greek friends to their destination to guarantee their safe passage. This is the love that is so rarely seen today between Christian and Muslims in most of the world. This chapter really brings the message of this book to light.

What I learned from this book:

I learned so much from this book that I don’t even know where to begin. The book’s overall message that few men make the decisions that affect millions is what impacted me the most. How simple words and decisions could change the course of history. These same men turn best friends into enemies just by using simple words. Many times in the book, we see a Greek Christian and an Ottoman Muslim love one another (friendly or romantic) despite being told by world leaders that they are now enemies.

“How strange that the world should change because of words, and words change because of the world” (p 287)

Another thing I learned is how quickly good human beings can turn evil. The atrocities that Greeks and Turks committed to one another after living among each other harmoniously for so many years is truly baffling. How does one hate another so much to commit such horrible crimes to innocent people? I will never understand that, but it is clear the humans are capable of awful things.

“Much of what was done was simply in revenge for identical atrocities…” (p 6)

Final thoughts on this book:

Overall this is a great book; I loved it the first time I read it, and I loved it the second time I read it. Louis de Bernieres writes so eloquently, including many important hidden messages. There were some messages I didn’t even catch the first time I read this book. I truly recommend that everyone reads this book, even if you aren’t into historical fiction because so many things that you learn from this book can be connected to today’s world. The only reason I did not give it a 5/5 is because the middle section was a bit hard to get through because of the vivid details of the war.

Shop now:


The Nightingale- Book Review

By: Kristin Hannah

My Rating- 5/5 Stars — Genre: Historical Fiction — N. of Pages: 440

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is one of my most favourite books. It is centered around two sisters living in France during World War II. The Nightingale included romance, love, agony, sadness and much more. From the very first page of this book, you are hooked!

I first came across The Nightingale after I joined a book club and was asked to select a book for the group to read. I knew I wanted to choose a historical fiction book because my group was not familiar with that genre, and I was convinced I could convert them with the right book! I began looking into popular historical fiction novels, and The Nightingale kept appearing on all my searches. I wanted a book that didn’t include too many historical ramblings and had an excellent story, and The Nightingale seemed to be just that. Therefore, I selected it for my book club and luckily, it was a big success! Everyone loved it, and it sparked so many great conversations. In fact, many of the people in my book club continued to ask for other recommendations on historical fiction novels for future reading.

As I have mentioned, The Nightingale is now placed at the top of the list of my favourite books. I know this will be a book I read many more times in my life. The Nightingale was incredible from the very first page. The characters, the events, the story were engaging and exciting. I honestly struggled to put this book down each night; if there was no need for sleep, I could have finished it in 24 hours.

The Theme of this book…

The Nightingale is about two sisters and the very different paths their lives take during World War II in France. These sisters appear very different, but as the book continues, you begin to see the fight both of these women have. Hannah brings the characters’ thoughts and emotions to life; the reader truly begins to feel those same emotions felt by the characters. This book is about family love, the struggle for survival and the need to fight for your values.

The Nightingale shows you the difficulties the French people faced, mostly women, who are at home under German occupation. It shows French women’s perseverance to do whatever they could to help in the war effort from their homes. This book was not about war battles and soldiers; it was about the struggle of occupation, the push to survive, and the fight to gain freedom. Truly a remarkable story about a challenging time in France’s history.

What I learned from this book…

The Nightingale is an inspirational story about women’s fight for survival and their constant determination to protect their family and those around them. The ordeal that these two sisters experience is beyond my imagination; it seems impossible to overcome such horrible obstacles in your life. It shows the human will and strength and how strong it is. It made me feel that no obstacle is too hard to overcome and how important it is to fight for what you believe. I learned so much more about the difficulties faced by the women living under occupation during World War II, something I think the history books do not focus enough time on. It opened a new door to the perspectives of World War II.

Other books written by this author… 

Kristin Hannah has written many books, so I have listed some of her better-known books below:

*The Four Winds (newest book)
*The Great Alone
*Home Front
*Night Road
*Winter Garden

Shop now:


A Long Petal of the Sea- Book Review

By: Isabel Allende

My Ratings: 4/5 Stars — Genre: Historical Fiction — N. of Pages: 336

“Venezuela received Victor with the same easygoing generosity with which it took in thousands of immigrants from many parts of the world… [Venezuela] was one of the wealthiest countries in the world… nobody killed themsleves working… life was a long party, with a great sense of freedom and a profound sense of equality.” (p253-254)

This quote profoundly impacted me from the book, ‘A Long Petal of the Sea’ by Isabel Allende. Comparing the sentiment that Victor and his family felt towards Venezuela and knowing what Venezuela has now become makes this statement unbelievable. This quote also highlights the central theme of this book, the ever-changing political landscape of once-stable countries. It shows how quickly security and freedom can slip from your grasp. Victor and his family begin as refugees fleeing a political coup in their home country, and this theme follows them everywhere they go.

Why I chose this book…

I decided to read this book because I kept seeing it pop up on many book blogs and reading lists. I was interested in reading a historical fiction novel but in a new and unknown historical period. This book begins with the Spanish Civil War, something I know very little about but have always been interested in learning more. Therefore I decided it would be an interesting read on a new topic.

What is this book about…

This book goes through the entire life of its main character, Victor. It begins at the time of the Spanish Civil War, focusing on Victor and his family’s experiences. It continues by following Victor and his family as they flee from Spain and end up living in multiple countries. The main characters bounce around as refugees from one country to another throughout their lives. Through Victor’s experiences, we get a glimpse into the Spanish Civil War and then eventually into the Chilean Civil War. We also get to see what Venezuela was like during the early 1980s, a very different picture then what Venezuela has become today. This book covers many topics and historical events. You learn about the struggles of a refugee and what it’s like starting over again in a foreign country. The book ends with Victor in his 80s.

Also, the chapters were laid out by years rather than events, and the reader learns about what happens to Victor (and the supporting characters) during the specific years laid out at the beginning of the chapter.

My thoughts after reading the book… 

I’m happy I chose to read this book. It was eventful, had proper character development, and had some unexpected twists along the way. However, I was surprised to see that the Spanish Civil War was just one event and not the main event in this book. I didn’t get to learn as much about the Spanish Civil War as I would have liked. The layout of this book was a bit different then I was used to, and I felt like some events were rushed. There were also very few times where I felt like I could not put the book down. I was intrigued to keep reading, but not in a thrilling, suspenseful manner. Each chapter ended with the ending of a time frame, not with an intriguing angle that made you want to keep reading. I also found that the ending was a bit abrupt, and I was hoping to hear more about that final major event in Victor’s life. That being said, I still really enjoyed reading this book.

The Author…

Isabel Allende is more well known for her novel, ‘The House of the Spirits,’ but she has written over 20 books that have all won critical acclaim. ‘A Long Petal of the Sea’ is her most recent book, and it is a book that includes stories that were told to her as a child. Her cultural background is South American (raised in Chile), and many of the people and events she writes about are from stories she hears from older relatives. None of the characters are real, but they are all shaped by people she knew.

Shop now: