The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris, Review: Compelling

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris is a powerful, compelling novel and now a 6-part TV series. Read our book review and more about the TV adaptation.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz Book Synopsis

The Tattooist of Auschwitz - Heather Morris - Book Review

The incredible story of the Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist and the woman he loved.

Lale Sokolov is well-dressed, a charmer, a ladies’ man. He is also a Jew. On the first transport from Slovakia to Auschwitz in 1942, Lale immediately stands out to his fellow prisoners. In the camp, he is looked up to, looked out for, and put to work in the privileged position of tätowierer – the tattooist – to mark his fellow prisoners, forever. One of them is a young woman, Gita, who steals his heart at first glance.

His life given new purpose, Lale does his best through the struggle and suffering to use his position for good.

This story, full of beauty and hope, is based on years of interviews author Heather Morris conducted with real-life Holocaust survivor and Auschwitz-Birkenau tattooist Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov. It is heart-wrenching, illuminating, and unforgettable.

“The Tattooist of Auschwitz has the quality of a dark fairytale. It is both simple and epic, shot through with compassion and love… Everyone should read it”—Hugh Riminton

“Heather Morris climbs into the dark miasma of war and emerges with an extraordinary tale of the power of love” — Leah Kaminsky

(Echo Publishing, 2018)

Genre: Historical, Thriller, Romance, Drama

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When I was young I was exposed to enough accounts (real-life and fictional) to be all too aware of the unthinkable atrocities perpetrated during WWII. But in the last decade or so, I have read comparatively little of the slew of Holocaust fiction published. Why? Because I am in two minds about the overt dramatization of such experiences.

It is vital to ensure the fact that the unimaginable can indeed happen if we do not act against it remains in the mainstream conscience. And I believe ‘fiction’ is one of the most powerful mediums to do that. But real life is messy and rarely conforms with the story arc and character archetypes most readers desire.

To even suggest that right and wrong is always black and white when one is faced with their own (or a loved one’s) mortality is an injustice to the countless that have found themselves in that position. Without speaking frankly about the context in which seemingly impossible choices were made during the Holocaust, one cannot truly understand its lasting physical and psychological impacts. That Heather Morris understands this, is clear.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz Book Quote

Yes, The Tattooist of Auschwitz features a story of love and devotion, all the more moving and remarkable because of the circumstances in which it occurred. But for me, the honesty and openness imbued in Lale’s narrative truly sets this fiction-based-on-fact apart; particularly so in respect to his will to survive and the actions he took to further that goal. A sentiment that resonates strongly is the stance taken by the narrator during his time held prisoner in the concentration camps; that to survive was to win. It felt raw, and real.


“If you wake up in the morning, it is a good day.” – The Tattooist of Auschwitz

I admire the restraint displayed by Morris in telling Lale and Gita’s story. In relatively short and well-paced chapters she balances exposition of the horrors perpetrated at a grand scale with the different experiences of individuals whose plights we become invested in. There is a notable absence of literary decadence, heightening the narrative’s credibility and impact on readers.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris is a powerful and compelling novel. If you read one title about the Holocaust this year, I recommend it be this one.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5 — Overall Rating 4.25 / 5

Get your copy of The Tattooist of Auschwitz from:

Bookshop US | Amazon | Booktopia AU

Related Reads:
The second and third books in this series by Heather Morris, Cilka’s Journey and Three Sisters
The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth
Land of Hidden Fires by Kirk Kjeldsen 
Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilsen

The Tattooist of Auschwitz TV Series

The 6-part TV adaptation starring Harvey Keitel, Melanie Lynskey, Jonah Hauer-King, and Anna Próchniak is being released in May 2024 on streaming services worldwide — Stan (Australia), Peacock (US),  Showcase (Canada), NOW (UK and Ireland, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland). Here’s the official trailer:

Official Trailer, Peacock

Heather Morris, Author

Heather Morris is a native of New Zealand, now resident in Australia. For several years, while working in a large public hospital in Melbourne, she studied and wrote screenplays. One of these was optioned by an Academy Award-winning screenwriter in the US.

In 2003, Heather was introduced to an elderly gentleman who ‘might just have a story worth telling’. The day she met Lale Sokolov changed both their lives. As their friendship grew, Lale embarked on a journey on self-scrutiny. He entrusted Heather with the innermost details of his life during the Holocaust. She originally wrote Lale’s story as a screenplay which ranked high in international competitions, before reshaping it into her debut novel.

Heather Morris, author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, discusses the first time she met Lale Sokolov, the man whose life inspired her book.

* My receiving a copy from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions.