Following her time spent in Auschwitz-Birkenau with Lale and Gita from The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Cilka was considered a collaborator for sleeping with the enemy (the Nazis.) Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris details Cilka’s fifteen year sentence in the Vorkuta gulag, a Soviet prison camp. It seems that her experiences are just going to repeat themselves as she enters the gulag. She quickly makes new friends, acquaintances, and enemies. Can these newfound friends, including a kind female doctor, help her survive her time in the camp? Will she be able to find the love she watched Lale and Gita find?
My Overall Thoughts on Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris
I mentioned this in my review of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, but how do you review a book like this, right? It’s hard to take someone’s real, true journey and critique it. Heather Morris does a phenomenal job writing these stories, and telling them how they deserve to be told. That’s it, too. These are stories that need to be told; we need to hear them. How quickly we forget the horrors of our past.
For me, the book started off a bit slow. It took me several chapters to get into it. Maybe that’s because I knew where Cilka’s story left off from The Tattooist of Auschwitz. I was just looking for something to happen. However, I quickly had to correct myself and just hear the story. Because like I said above, these are stories we need to hear.
There are a lot of details about Cilka’s time in the Vorkuta gulag, but these details are important to her story. All of the relationships she establishes while in the prison are important. It’s hard for me to understand the fear and stress the women must have been under, with not knowing how much food they would receive to not knowing when they would be raped by the male prisoners.
Throughout the story, I was waiting for Cilka’s release. Would it be early? Would she spend the entire fifteen years in the prison? How is she going to get out of the next mess in which she finds herself? The story really keeps you waiting for the next problem, but also keeps you hoping that with such goodness still remaining in her heart, someone will start to help her.
However, when someone does offer to help her, she asks for them to help her friend instead. It’s astounding and amazing to me that after all of the struggles, she was still willing to keep herself in prison, in danger, to save someone else. How you have that much spirit, fight, and love in your heart after the horrifying things she witnessed and endured is beyond me.
Would I Recommend This Book?
Yes, but I want to give some warnings first. This book, along with The Tattooist of Auschwitz, is heavy. It details some of the most horrifying experiences of a concentration camp and prison camp survivor. There were multiple times when I paused just to take a breath and absorb what I had just read. There were also a couple times when I found myself in tears.
Some trigger warnings include familial death, miscarriage and infant loss, mass incarceration, and sexual abuse. There are likely more I’m not naming in this list.
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