Book Review: Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris

From the author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz comes Cilka’s Journey. The much anticipated sequel, a testament to human survival.

What is Cilka’s Journey About?

Cilka’s Journey focuses on Cilka Klein, a character present but not explored in depth in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. This book shares what happened to her after she was liberated from Auschwitz.

Charged as a collaborator to the nazis by the Russians, Cilka is sent to a prison camp in Siberia. It is here, inside Vortuka, that Cilka once more finds herself imprisoned.

What I liked about Cilka’s Journey?

As when I reviewed The Tattooist of Auschwitz I found myself reflecting that this is not a book created for enjoyment. It’s primary purpose is to engage and educate the reader.

It does that very well.

Heather Morris bases her book on what is known of Cilka Klein’s, and from the testimonies of other women held within Siberian prison camps. This was an element of history that I previous did not know much about.

I appreciate that fact melds with fiction, to create a story around these places and events. Too often history can be perceived as distant and dry. That’s a shame. But Heather Morris has used her platform as an author to return a level of humanity back to these individuals.

Morris has balanced maintaining the authenticity of emotion, with historical accuracy. I appreciate her acknowledgement that in some areas she has blended history and fiction. Doing so allows us to recognise that this book is not intended to be a historical documentation.

Rather, the book attempts to convey a sense of the loss, struggle and pain endured by those held in Siberian prison camps. Those like Cilka, who had already endured through the horrors of Auschwitz.

I had to keep reading this book, it gripped me and held on. It was a beautiful story.

What I didn’t like about Cilka’s Journey?

Initially, when I finished Cilka’s Journey my sense of closure was not as great upon finishing this book. I think I felt uneasy, I wanted all the information about her happily ever after – as we get somewhat in the first book.

Upon further reflection, this makes sense. Much of the research about Cilka Klein seemed inconclusive, and in some cases, completely contradictory. An ending that is more open ended and has some questions is a reflection of this.

Can I read Cilka’s Journey if I haven’t read The Tattooist of Auschwitz?

If you haven’t read the Tattooist of Auschwitz, you can still read Cilka’s Journey. Though a sequel, the books largely stand apart from one another and I believe that both have merit on their own.

Final Thoughts

In November of 2019 I was fortunate enough to go to a book signing event for Cilka’s Journey. Heather Morris spoke about this book, and also The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

It was an incredible event, hosted by the wonderful team at Collins Croydon. At the event, I was impacted by Morris sharing about the personal challenge it was to record these stories. Listening to and recording traumatic stories takes a toll, so she emphasised the importance of self-care as an author.

She shared some wisdom that someone once gave her – that the pain of others is not ours to carry when it comes to trauma.

I think this is a valid point, especially as we come to engage with texts that share traumatic lived experiences. We cannot truly understand what it is like to have lived that experience. Our role is to listen and learn, not to try and fix or make up for the traumas another person experienced. In many cases, such as for the case of survivors of horrific events (including the holocaust) it is impossible to do so.

Where can I get a copy?

Cilka’s Journey is available from all major booksellers and online. If you’d like to support local – give Collins Croydon a call, they’re amazing!

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