This is a novel about “amazing lives of ordinary people under the most unimaginable of circumstances.” It brings us a beautiful reminder not to judge: “Everyone affected by war, captivity, or oppression reacts differently – and away from it, people might try to guess how they would act, or react, in the circumstances. But they do not really know.”
In such circumstances there is always a Cilka. Cecilia Klein was “the bravest person” known to Lale, the tattooist of Auschwitz, whom we know from Heather Morris’ novel by the same name. “She was beautiful, a tiny little thing, and she saved my life” – Lalo’s testimony to Cilka, the 16 year old raped for three years by SS officers when and as they pleased, who found herself to be punished for this by another ideology which came to power. The novel made me think that it does not matter how you call a certain ideology, they bring suffering, regardless of their aim. To be released from rape in one camp, to suffer the same treatment in another, although under a different flag, it makes no difference to the victim. Still, the novel is not about ideologies, it is about stamina and resilience in beyond believable circumstances first in a concentration camp then in a gulag.
I will never understand how is it possible to make people suffer so much. Solzhenitsyn offers an answer: ‘To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good. Or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law.’ What natural law is that, I wonder. Cilka and many others lived and battled not just to live but to retain their humanity. In most adverse circumstances, she put the needs of others above hers, and she expected nothing in return. This is a natural law, by me.
A warmly recommended reading. Thank you, Heather Morris!
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