Another outing with Bookouture‘s Books-on-tour again today, this time to share my review of The Child of Auschwitz by Lily Graham: published on 8th November, it’s now available via Amazon for kindle and in paperback. My thanks to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy, provided through netgalley.
I do have a small admission to make. I read Heather Morris’ The Tattooist of Auschwitz for my real life book club last month, but you won’t find my review here on Being Anne: I really didn’t “enjoy” it at all, neither the writing itself nor its curious emotional detachment. But Lily Graham is an author I’ve been wanting to try for some time: this book is very different from her usual, and I was intrigued to find out whether her treatment of the subject matter might appeal to me rather more. And I’m pleased to report that it most certainly did – this is a review I’m happy to share…
‘She touched the photograph in its gilt frame that was always on her desk, of a young, thin woman with very short hair and a baby in her arms. She had one last story to tell. Theirs. And it began in hell on earth.’
It is 1942 and Eva Adami has boarded a train to Auschwitz. Barely able to breathe due to the press of bodies and exhausted from standing up for two days, she can think only of her longed-for reunion with her husband Michal, who was sent there six months earlier.
But when Eva arrives at Auschwitz, there is no sign of Michal and the stark reality of the camp comes crashing down upon her. As she lies heartbroken and shivering on a thin mattress, her head shaved by rough hands, she hears a whisper. Her bunkmate, Sofie, is reaching out her hand…
As the days pass, the two women learn each other’s hopes and dreams – Eva’s is that she will find Michal alive in this terrible place, and Sofie’s is that she will be reunited with her son Tomas, over the border in an orphanage in Austria. Sofie sees the chance to engineer one last meeting between Eva and Michal and knows she must take it even if means befriending the enemy…
But when Eva realises she is pregnant she fears she has endangered both their lives. The women promise to protect each other’s children, should the worst occur. For they are determined to hold on to the last flower of hope in the shadows and degradation: their precious children, who they pray will live to tell their story when they no longer can.
A heart-breaking story of survival, where life or death relies on the smallest chance and happiness can be found in the darkest times.
It feels wrong to say that this was a book I enjoyed – the setting and subject matter do rather demand that it shouldn’t be something you “enjoy”. Some may even feel that Auschwitz isn’t an appropriate backdrop for a work of fiction – and I might just veer towards agreeing with that. But I did think the author handled her difficult subject matter exceptionally well, with a well-judged balance between the horrifying environment and the many acts of unimaginable cruelty, the friendship between Sofie and Eva with its moments of selflessness, and the moving love story that extends both before and after the confines of the camp. Inspired by a number of real people and events, the environment and the primary characters had the feel of authenticity, the detail showing that the author had clearly researched her subject in some depth.
But this is a novel, not a memoir – and the author certainly demonstrates that she is an excellent story-teller. I really liked the relationship between the two girls, the use of dual-time narrative to flesh out the back story (that also provided some respite from the horror), and the way the more emotional or harrowing moments were written in a low key way that made them all the more powerful. My only minor criticism might be the slightly too tidy ending – but this is a work of fiction after all, and with that thought in mind I think it really worked, a welcome hint of hope and light after all the darkness.
A compelling read, a story of endurance and survival, both heart-breaking and uplifting, and beautifully written. I’ll be looking out for more books from Lily Graham.
About the author
Lily Graham grew up in South Africa, and is a former journalist. She lives now in the Suffolk coast with her husband and English bulldog, Fudge. She is the author of seven novels, published by Bookouture, including the bestselling The Paris Secret and The Island Villa.