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Book review: Cilka’s Journey

Cilka’s Journey, Heather Morris.

It feels warped and twisted to say I didn’t this book to end. Much like The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Morris has weaved a heart-wrenching real life story into a beautifully crafted tale. 

“Did I tell you about Cilka?” “No, Lale, you didn’t. Who was Cilka?” “She was the bravest person I ever met. Not the bravest girl, the bravest person.”

Cilka’s Journey, HEATHER MORRIS

I’ve always been fascinated by the world wars. I find the idea that they were in some people’s lifetimes bewildering, let alone the fact they actually happened in the first place. (Not in a crazy conspiracy theorist way, I just cannot fathom how humans can kill others).

“His eyes seem to see nothing. He is a man whose soul has died and whose body is waiting to catch up with it.”

Cilka’s Journey, heather morris

What broke my heart about Cilka’s Journey was the punishment this young girl faced after surviving the deadliest concentration camp in WW2. Sixteen. I can only think of myself at that age and imagine how I would have coped. 

“Everyone affected by war, captivity or aggression 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.”

Cilka’s Journey, HEATHER MORRIS

It’s so difficult to write a review without sharing the story, but I don’t ever want to spoil the emotional journey that books of this nature take you on. 

There were multiple moments I welled up.

What I will say, is that it was fascinating to learn more about the USSR and Russia. It’s something that is rarely shared following the war. I read every inch of this book front to back, including the supplementary content and delving into the conditions faced by those in Russia really struck me. 

It’s very easy to become stuck in your own bubble, forgetting how other countries and nations exist. Prior to this book, it had never crossed my mind that victims of the holocaust could be seen as perpetrators and sentenced to work in camps like the one Cilka experienced. Maybe that’s naive, but I guess as life in our country rebuilt that is the story of war we focused on. The War Horse style recounts, not USSR slave labour.

Life is a lottery and for poor Cilka I am just glad that she had 16 years of unconditional family love before the horrors of war took her youth and innocence. I think it is those years that gave her the strength to continue as she did. 

This is a spoiler, so if you haven’t read the book. Stop now. 

I can’t deny, though the many horrors of Morris’ books, I still felt my heart flutter when Cilka found love. To think she found it in the manner in which she did struck me. This wasn’t fiction, Morris wasn’t trying to lighten the atrocities – this was genuine, long-withstanding love. Found within the confines of Vorkuta Gulag in the bloody Arctic.

I think Lale was right when he said she was the bravest person he’d ever met. Much like Morris’ other book, these stories of life and love have resonated with me and will stay with me for a long time.

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