Monday, December 24, 2018

Review of The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

In the opening pages of The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (Zaffre, January 2018), Lale Sokolov is standing in a crowded cattle train on his way to an unknown destination. While his fellow travelers are traumatized by the journey, Lale has adopted a “wait and see” attitude, which doesn’t change even when he marches under a gate with the words ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ wrought from the metal.

“Just do as you’re told, you’ll be fine,” Lale says to a newfound friend. As fate would have it, Lale’s experiences at the camp are not as horrendous as those of his fellow Jews.

In April 1942, the rate of transports arriving in Auschwitz is accelerating. At the gates of the camp, Jews and gypsies from all over Europe are listed in the Nazi records and their arms are tattooed in green ink. Lale has been appointed to be one of the camp’s tattooists. Even as he defiles the arms of terrified men and women, Lale shows compassion for his fellow prisoners. Perhaps the relative freedom he enjoys as a tattooist will allow him to use his position to help them.

This widely acclaimed novel is based on the true story of Lale Sokolov, how he not only survived his years at Auschwitz-Birkenau, but also found love in the camp. When he inks the serial number into the arm of a young woman, she steals his heart at first glance. This is Gita, his future wife, and their hidden romance in the most difficult of conditions proves that love conquers all. Not for the vast majority of prisoners, of course, but in this specific case.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Review of The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Right from the start I will tell you that I don’t usually read this genre—the coming-of-age story of a teenage girl caught up in her parents’ stormy relationship—but there is one reason that I couldn’t put down The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (St. Martin's Press, February 2018). To say it in a word – Alaska.

Hannah’s vivid descriptions make America’s last frontier come alive. “It was otherworldly somehow, magical in its vast expanse, an incomparable landscape of soaring glacier-filled white mountains that ran the length of the horizon, knife-tip points pressed high into a cloudless cornflower-blue sky.”

In Hannah’s writing, all your senses are drawn into Alaska’s allure. “The air smelled briny, deeply of the sea. Shorebirds floated on the wind, dipped and rose effortlessly.”

This is Alaska, in all of its beauty and all the perils of living there. The extreme cold, the snowstorms, the brown bears and the packs of wolves, the king salmon and the bald eagles, and more than anything else, the isolation.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Traveling in Southern Bulgaria: Rhodope Cuisine and Culture


An exploration of the Rhodope Mountains in southern Bulgaria would not be complete without taking advantage of the opportunity of tasting the region’s unique, and tasty cuisine.

During our stay at Villa Gela we are spoiled with the food. The owners’ family owns the Terra Tangra Winery located on Sakar Mountain, 200 kilometers to the east. We are served Yatrus Syrah and the white Tamyanka. We start our meal with homemade rakia – the national, very strong fruit brandy of Bulgaria. In the mornings we drink a mixture of vinegar and honey that cleans one’s digestive system.