Publication Date: 10/1/2019
Rating: 4/ 5
I received a complimentary advanced digital galley of CILKA’S JOURNEY by Heather Morris. Thank you to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for the chance to read and provide an honest review!
Having recently read and reviewed Heather Morris’ last book THE TATTOOIST of AUSCHWITZ, I immediately requested to read CILKA’S JOURNEY when I spotted it on Netgalley. The first book was such a powerful story, both heartbreaking and also somehow uplifting too. The main character in this novel, Cilka Klein, is a character who made a few key appearances in the last novel and I was very interested in hearing more of her story.
This novel begins as the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp is being liberated. In what should be a moment of celebration or relief, Cilka faces the unimaginable. When Cilka was taken to the camp at only 16 years of age, she was noticed for her beauty and separated out from the other women. Forced to sleep with those in charge of the camp and put in positions of “privilege” so they can have access to her, Cilka winds up being charged as a co-conspirator when the Russians liberate the camp.
Forced onto another train, Cilka is transported to a Siberian prison camp where she faces a long sentence. Along with fellow inmates she faces horrifying conditions, lack of food and ongoing abuse. In spite of all this, Cilka is a strong woman and she helps those around her to survive. Cilka is smart and good with languages and she is able to find ways to survive in the worst of circumstances. Interspersed with her story at the prison camp are flashbacks to Cilka’s past including appearances of Gita and Lale from the prior novel.
After the prior novel, I had no doubts that this novel would be difficult to read, full of heartbreak and atrocities. There are trigger warnings for abuse, rape and violence. The prisoners are put in impossible situations, working in the mines until they cannot do so anymore and then are just replaced with little care from those in charge when their bodies literally break down.
Where in the first novel the basis was conversations the author had with the central character, Lale. In this case, the author was unable to meet her central character. Instead the book is based off of interviews with people who knew Cilka and research. Perhaps as a result of the multiple sources, this book felt like it had even more depth than perhaps the first novel did. For such a heavy topic, this was written in a way that it was a fast read and you can’t help but be drawn in to CIlka’s story.
If you are a fan of historical fiction, this is a book you’ll want to check out when it is released on October 1, 2019!