Recently, there’s been some controversy surrounding the bestselling novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz. While there has been some issue surrounding the many historical inconsistencies in the novel, what seems to be the biggest problem revolves around the author, Australian born Heather Morris who is (according to online sources) not Jewish. On Twitter, The Tattooist of Auschwitz has been described the book as “a sexed-up romance novel/memoir,” claiming that Morris has little true information about the real Lali Sokolov. The plot is Lali’s story and is based on the only surviving account of a Jewish prisoner employed in Auschwitz as a tattooist.
Fiction and reality are always blurred, but when it comes to controversial topics such as the Holocaust, how far is too far?
Truth or Fiction?
Truth is stranger than fiction, but how true do we need a story to be? Some would argue that works of fiction, while based on real stories are simply interpretations of a true event. Theoretically, a work of historical fiction wouldn’t *have* to be true. The Tattooist of Auschwitz isn’t exactly the first work of fiction to be written about the Holocaust. The Book Thief, Maus & The Boy in the Striped Pajamas are just three popular narratives centred around the holocaust. Usually, when I’m looking for information on something, my first inclination is to read a biography or to check out some journal articles, not fiction and especially not romance novels.
So when it comes to fiction, when is it acceptable to leave out the truth?
Entertainment or History Lesson?
The truth is that we don’t go to fiction just to be entertained. Literature teaches us even when we are not actively seeking a lesson. Through the lens of fictional characters we are better able to imagine the people who lived through important and often terrifying historical events and that sets a new precedent around historical fiction. We aren’t just imagining made up characters anymore. Or fictional places. It becomes a question of representation.
It has also been suggested here that being familiar with historical events through fiction helps us make connections and draw our own conclusions about past and present events. So if a story like The Tattooist of Auschwitz is supposed to give context to the larger narrative of the Holocaust, what is there to be learned?
The Truth About Stories
When we are writing about sensitive topics, it is crucial that we respect the truth behind the fiction. There will always be a seed of truth in any fictional account. Perhaps this should inspire readers to delve deeper if they want to learn more about a topic? Even so, I wonder just how mad we ought to get when delving into fiction for our truths.
Will you read The Tattooist of Auschwitz?