A heartbreaking yet uplifting tale of love and hope, set against the grim backdrop of Auschwitz.
Very few books make me cry, but I'll freely admit I was snivelling away at much of this. Before I started reading it, I was wondering what the author would bring to a subject that had been covered a lot in other great books, such as The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas or Schindler's Ark; the answer is - an unflagging, poignant sense of hope that makes this true story all the more remarkable.
It's about Lale, a Slovakian who is sent by his family (in accordance with the Nazi law) to Auschwitz. Right from the start, it's clear that he's a young man who is determined to put a brave face on things, even when people around him are suffering and in despair.
When he reaches Auschwitz, he's transferred to Birkenau, where he swiftly realises the bleakness of his situation. Through painfully concise descriptions, we learn about the lack of food, the volatile nature of the guards (who Lale witnesses shooting men on the toilet on his first night), and the grim sleeping conditions - which raises the question; how can anyone survive in these conditions?
Yet somehow, Lale does. He becomes the tattooist for the Nazis, placing the numbers of the arms of the newly arrived prisoners. Then he meets Gita for the first time, a girl with dark eyes who immediately steals his heart.
This book is a tale of their love, set against the almost impossibly awful conditions in the concentration camp. But it's about more than that. It's about the bravery of their friends, who risked so much to help Lale and Gita; both when they were ill, and when Lale got caught smuggling contraband goods. It's also about the mentality of the Nazis around them; from the chilling Doktor Mengale (who selected the people to be gassed, among other atrocities) to the guard who oversees Lale's work, who inadvertently ends up having a sort of uneasy friendship.
So, as you can probably already tell - I loved this book to bits and couldn't stop reading it. Admittedly, it's a moving subject matter anyway, but it's handled with such respect and warmth that it makes it all the more poignant. I got the strong feeling that the author (who interviewed Lale as an old man), really admired him, because it comes through in every heartfelt word.
I really can't criticise anything about this book at all, and it feels especially significant at the moment, given that we've got such hostility in the world at present. It's a wonderful celebration of never losing hope, and always acting with love and positivity as your motivation. Read it. Read it now!