How do I say this without being unkind … but just because it’s a true story doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good book. In this particular case, I think that has less to do with the story and more to do with the author. In my opinion, Heather Morris just isn’t a good writer. The book – and Lale’s story – really suffers for it.
True stories like Lale’s are absolutely vital if we are to avoid repeating history but Morris seems determined to make it as boring and blase as possible. This is a book about a man who through some combination of wits and sheer luck survived years in Auschwitz and yet it reads like … how did I describe it to my mom. “Here’s a tragedy book for when you want to feel like you’re learning something but not actually leaving your comfort zone.” Any teeth it might have had have been utterly blunted and again, this is a true story from the Holocaust.
Given the job to tattoo those numbers on arriving prisoners at Auschwitz, Lale has a degree of access and protection that most prisoners at the camp would never have. This also means that he is pegged as a collaborator and that, I wonder, is maybe why this book feels so toothless. Morris is desperate for her subject to be a Hero and a Good Man and will not stand for any depth beyond that, so the whole book feels flat. In its own way it reminds me of Barracoon I read last year, which remained unpublished for nearly a century in part because it references the uncomfortable truth that warring tribes in West Africa were instrumental in the slave trade. Here, Morris tells the story, but she tells it badly in what might be an effort to protect her subject.
Or maybe she’s telling it as best she can from the interviews she got. I’m speculating here. Anyway, it’s not a book I’m going to recommend. And I’m not sure where I saw it recommended. I should note these things so I can vet my sources better in the future.