“The tattooing has taken only seconds, but Lale’s shock makes time stand still.”

The Central Library Brown Baggers book group met virtually on Nov. 19th to discuss  The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. 

This book tells the story of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, who is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer, tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners. One day, Lale meets another prisoner named Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

The Brown Baggers were impressed with Lale’s character, describing him as flashy, charming, charismatic, optimistic, dogged, and determined. They were less impressed with Gita, mentioning she is hard to empathize with, as she is presented as a fairly flat person, not a well-developed character. Many of the group members felt the reading experience was weird or uncomfortable, due to the romantic plot in such horrific settings, calling it the ‘Hallmark’ version of a WWII story. 

Nevertheless, many enjoyed the read, although cited WWII fatigue after reading A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell last month. There was also much discussion of what concentration camp historical sites are like in the modern day, with several Brown Baggers describing trips they or their family had made to the sites, and the horrors still represented within.

The Brown Baggers will meet again virtually on Thursday, December 17th at noon to select future titles (for June 2021-May 2022).  Please email kfarrell@jmrl.org for details on how to participate from your computer or phone.

Books Mentioned:

Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Films:

La Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful), (1997)

Links:

Synchronicity Films to Bring the Tattooist of Auschwitz to the Screen

Daily Mail – The Tattooist of Auschwitz Controversy: Author in Clash with Holocaust Survivor’s Son Over ‘Mistakes’ In International Bestseller

Love To Teach – A Discussion of the Tattooist of Auschwitz

“It takes a whole lot longer to dispose of a body than to dispose of a soul, especially if you don’t want to leave any evidence of foul play.”

Books on Tap met virtually to discuss My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite on the strength of the suggestion of a former JMRL librarian who enjoyed the audiobook. This fast-paced, darkly humorous thriller is not our usual book club choice but we all enjoyed it. As readers we are thrown in medias res into the action, watching Korede answering her sister’s Ayoola’s call to clean up yet another of her murders. Korede is a nurse in Lagos, Nigeria and takes her caretaking role as the elder sister very seriously. Her younger, prettier sister attracts too much male attention and uses her knife when enough is enough. Their mother favors Ayoola so Korede resorts to confessing their crimes to her comatose patient, who inconveniently wakes up. 

We started by discussing the limit of our obligation to family. Korede clearly sees her sister’s flaws and the box society puts both of them in. She doesn’t see helping her sister dispose of body after body as a choice, it’s just something she has to do, even when she likes the victim. The sisters are tightly bonded by the violence they suffered at their father’s hand. This reminded one reader of a recent book club memoir, Educated by Tara Westover, who also describes how her father’s abuse bonded her to some siblings and alienated her from others. It also led us to debate how many men Ayoola has killed. Both sisters start counting with Ayoola’s first boyfriend, but the novel leaves room for us to think that both sisters killed their father years ago when the sexual danger to Ayoola is first made explicit in her own home. 

This ambiguity was part of the fairytale nature of the story. The characters’ motivation and personalities are all well drawn, as are the glimpses we see of Lagos and Nigerian culture, but there is an otherworldly sense. Both sisters are absolutely certain about past and present murders and there’s no sign that the  murders will end. The author, a poet, uses economical prose and precise pacing to draw us in to this improbable story and keep us enchanted to the end. 

And that’s what we responded most to. In a month when the news didn’t stop for a second, this quick read offered a refuge. It took us out of our present circumstances and gave us a movie-like escape that was easy to focus on for a few hours. We highly recommend both the print and audio if you’re struggling to concentrate enough to read  your usual favorites. 

Books on Tap will meet again on December 3 via Zoom. For the link, please contact Krista Farrell (kfarrell at jmrl dot org).  We’ll be reading Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, which the library owns in multiple formats. Email Sarah Hamfeldt (shamfeldt at jmrl dot org) for help accessing these titles for curbside pickup or by download. 

More Information:
About the author
About the novel
Interview with the author 

Other TItles Discussed
Dexter mystery series (the author has family in Charlottesville)
Educated by Tara Westover

Upcoming Meetings:
December 3: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
January 7: In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides
February 4: Elevation by Stephen King

“Valor rarely reaps the dividends it should.”

On October 15th, the Central Library Brown Baggers book group met virtually to discuss A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win WWII by Sonia Purnell.

This book tells the story of how, in 1942, the Gestapo sent out an urgent transmission: “She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her.” This spy was Virginia Hall, a young American woman–rejected from the foreign service because of her gender and her prosthetic leg–who talked her way into the spy organization dubbed Churchill’s “ministry of ungentlemanly warfare,” and, before the United States had even entered the war, became the first woman to deploy to occupied France. Virginia Hall was one of the greatest spies in American history, yet before this book, her story was untold.

While the Brown Baggers were very impressed with Virginia Hall and her achievements, many were underwhelmed by the quality of the writing, and found it hard to get through at points. Some found Hall herself so compelling they were not bothered by the writing, and all expressed admiration for the impact Hall had on the world, and history, especially in the face of extreme disadvantage and prejudice from her own side. 

The Brown Baggers will meet again virtually on Thursday, November 19 at noon to discuss The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.  Please email kfarrell@jmrl.org for details on how to participate from your computer or phone.

Books Mentioned:

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John Le Carre

The Night Witches by Garth Ennis

True Grit by Charles Portis

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania  by Erik Larson

Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy, France by Carolyn Moorehead

Madame Fourcade’s Secret War by Lynne Olson

Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell

Woman of No Importance (play) by Oscar Wilde

Other books on Virginia Hall:

Hall of Mirrors by Craig Gralley (historical fiction recounting Virginia Hall’s life)

The Wolves at the Door by Judith Pearson

Films:

 Julia (1977)

Links:

Deadline – ‘Paramount Buys Spy Novel ‘A Woman of No Importance’ for ‘Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley’ by Mike Flemming Jr.

IMDB – Upcoming Movie Page

NPR – ‘Female WWII Pilots: The Original Flygirls’ by Susan Stamberg

Women Airforce Service Pilots (general information)

Night Witches (general information)