Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris
Published by St. Martin’s Press on October 1st, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction
“What you are doing, Cilka, is the only form of resistance you have–staying alive.”
*ARC received by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I reviewed The Tattooist of Auschwitz earlier this year and I felt terrible giving it the rating I did. But I knew I wanted to try reading Cilka’s Journey because I was very interested in Cilka while reading Tattooist.
In fact, I remember thinking to myself, “I wish I could read more about Cilka.” And I’m very happy that Morris wrote about Cilka’s life so we could all learn more about her heroic feats.
We meet Cilka in Tattooist when she’s just sixteen years old and shuffled off to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in 1942. There the Commandant at Birkenau, Schwarzhuber, notices her beauty and forces her separation from the other women prisoners.
In Cilka’s Journey, Cilka is charged as a collaborator for sleeping with the enemy. After the liberation, she’s sent to Siberian prison camp. Cilka faces a horribly familiar challenge of unwanted attention from the guards. But she makes an impression on a woman doctor and Cilka is taken under her wing. But Cilka finds endless resources within herself to survive as she confronts death and faces terror every day.
Let’s just get right to it: Objectively, I think Journey is a better book than Tattooist. Did I enjoy reading it? I mean, I find “enjoy” a really weird word to choose since the subject matter is so horrific. But I did find myself more engaged with the book because I find Cilka to be a fascinating character and real-life person!
Cilka is an incredibly strong and brave woman. I do not know how she held onto her hope in such dark and trying times. She acted as a mother and a sister to the fellow women prisoners; she was working in the hospital and nursing people back to help; and she continued to stand up for the people she loved.
Throughout the book, I had a pit in my stomach because Cilka endured such gruesome and horrendous things. I was never sure if she’d be safe and survive. And while the supporting characters were definitely lacking in being three dimensional, I did appreciate seeing the bond she shared with the prisoners. Her relationship with Josie was very heartwarming.
However, I still have the same issue as I did with Tattooist. There’s a lot of telling and not enough showing with the way its written. It comes across very cold and detached, even when the subject matter lends itself to being very emotional. It’s written as if it’s a screenplay. Even if we know what Cilka’s thinking and we are aware of her inner dialogue, it comes across as if we’re merely observing from afar. We’re not in the moment with Cilka.
But ultimately, if you were a fan of Tattooist, I think you’ll like this too. You’ll see some overlap with Tattooist because the story is split into two timelines. You’ll get to read flashbacks of Cilka’s time at Auschwitz where she interacted with Lale and Gita.
I also very much appreciated the addition of the epilogue and Morris’ note in the end. You can definitely tell Morris put her heart and soul into researching and making sure Cilka’s story was told respectfully.
Cilka’s story demands to be read. We need to be highlighting more heroic women like her in literature! She was selfless and her spirit was unbreakable.