Huge thank you to St. Martin’s Press for providing an EARC of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: rape, illness, war crimes, violence, death .
Goodreads Rating: 4.5 Stars
Morris created waves after her debut release of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, and I think her readers will be eager to get their hands on her follow-up semi-sequel, Cilka’s Journey. This novel based on true events follows a woman mentioned in Tattooist named Cilka Klein, and takes the reader from the horrendous conditions of Auschwitz to the aftermath of war-torn Europe in 1945.
Cilka begins her narrative recounting the trial in which she is condemned to yet another prison camp, this one Siberia, as the Soviets accuse her of sleeping with and aiding the Germans. Cilka accepts her fate, despite the fact that she didn’t sleep with the Germans- she was forced and raped by them, and submitted to this treatment in order to stay alive. As further punishment, while at Auschwitz, she was put in charge of her bunk, meaning she had to treat them as the Germans would, in order to help her friends survive. Just as this life was explained by Lale in The Tattooist, Cilka was determined to survive and help as many as she could, even if it meant acting as a double agent.
As she begins her interment in Siberia, she continues to have flashbacks of her time before and during Auschwitz. She also finds herself in many similar situations as she was in the German camp- starving with very little food, forced to work in poor conditions, yet again being raped by soldiers and those in charge, and struggling with those in her bunk because of her treatment. However, she also finds a calling as a nurse and is taken under by a female doctor who spots Cilka’s aptitude for keeping a clear head while under pressure, managing many tasks and patients, and always doing as much as possible for the patient’s comfort.
Morris has taken a character study on a strong young woman and how she became that person over the course of 10+ years while imprisoned. Morris keeps the novel streamlined, but there is still plenty of depth into the living conditions, the training, the friendships, and the treatment of those in the prison camps.
Cilka’s Journey is a far cry from a light-hearted read, but anyone who reads this novel should admire Cilka for her resilience and determination. She did what she could to make up for the brutality she had to bear witness to and be a part of in order to save her life, and the lives of those around her. Morris yet again has transported her readers back to the horrendous WWII years, and shown us how the strong survived.
Expected Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Publisher: St. Martins Press
TL/DR: Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris is a historical fiction novel about a young woman named Cilka, who at age 16 was imprisoned at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942, and then in 1945 after the camp liberation, was sentenced to 15 years in Siberian prison for “sleeping with the enemy”.
Read it? Absolutely. Cilka’s resilience has a way of grabbing your attention, making it difficult to put the book down.
Recommend it? Yes. If you loved The Tattooist, I think you’ll love Cilka’s Journey, but even so, this book is perfect for any WWII historical fiction fan.
Buy it? You bet I’ll be buying a hardcopy when I see this book hit shelves, and I suggest you do the same!
If you liked this novel or review, check out these similar reads:
- The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
- Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
- Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelley