Review of 'Cilka's Journey'

Cilka's Journey by Heather Morris

cilkas_journey.jpg In “Cilka's Journey”, a follow-up to Morris' hit novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz, we follow the story of Cilka, a young woman who helped Lale when he was in Auschwitz. On arriving in the camp the attractive Cilka was taken to be the sex slave of the camp Commandant and so managed to survive her experience. In this book we learn that after the camp was liberated by the Russians at the end of the war she was branded as a collaborator, sentenced to hard labour and sent to a Russian prison camp in Siberia, the Vorkuta Gulag, where she endured yet more horrors. Cilka again manages to survive her experience with the help of a friendly nurse who takes her under her wing. Cilka quickly learns how to be a compassionate nurse and spends her sentence in the hospital, away from the treacherous mines her fellow inmates slave away in every day.

So you think it was tough surviving a concentration camp, how about surviving that AND a Russian prison in the arctic circle? Cilka shows remarkable strength of character to retain her sanity and survive against all of the odds. In this second book Morris again points out that this is a fictionalized story as much of Cilka's life is undocumented though she pulls on what she has learned in her research to fill in the missing details and creating supporting characters. As with Tattooist, the back of the book contains a few short supporting articles and additional information that are worth reading.

I found Cilka's Journey a much more tedious read than Tattooist. Cilka's Journey is a truly horrific story and I feel deeply for Cilka but it just seems to go on and on with not a lot happening. Though full of yet more horrors, perhaps I am a bit numb having already read the yet more horrific Tattooist? Perhaps it is partly that Cilka does not seem as alive as Lale in the first novel, and this could be due to Morris never having met Cilka and establishing that person relationship that really seems to flesh out Lale as a living, breathing being in Tattooist. Here Cilka is largely a vehicle for the viewer to witness what is going on and often forgetting how much of a privilege she enjoyed working in the hospital (Lale never forgot, and was frequently reminded of the privilege he had as tattooist). Cilka just does not seem as interesting a character as Lale. Yes, yes, it is a bit unfair to criticize this book because a separate book was so much better but unfortunately I have to compare the two as they are so much related featuring the same characters and this certainly the less powerful of the two…but by no means less horrific. Neither of these characters had a very pleasant life and faced incredible adversity yet they both managed to come out the other side.

Worth a read for fans of “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” but it is slightly disappointing and a bit over-long.

Rating: “Really good but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2022-06-12

Genre: General Fiction

Publisher: Bonnier Books

Publication Date: 2019

ISBN: 9781785769054

Other reviewed books by Heather Morris: