#LeedsReadsBookclub June/July – The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

Tattooist of AuschwitzOur recommended read and this month’s book club book is The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

This novel is based on the true story of Lale and Gita Sokolov, two Slovakian Jews, who survived Auschwitz and eventually made their home in Australia. In that terrible place, Lale was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival – literally scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust. Lale used the infinitesimal freedom of movement that this position awarded him to exchange jewels and money taken from murdered Jews for food to keep others alive. If he had been caught he would have been killed; many owed him their survival.

Download the book via Borrowbox (by following this link or downloading the Borrowbox app onto your android or iOS device) in either eBook or eAudiobook format. Don’t worry about having to wait for the book – it can be read by lots of people at the same time, making it ideal for a book club book.

Below are some topics and questions for you to consider when reading the book. These questions originally came from the publisher.

1. How did you feel about Lale when he was first introduced, as he arrived in Auschwitz? How did your understanding of him change throughout the novel?

2. What qualities did Lale have that influenced the way he was treated in the camp? Where did those qualities come from?

3. Survival in the camp depended on people doing deeds of questionable morality. Lale became the tattooist, but how did Gita’s choices affect her survival? What about her friend who befriended a Nazi?

4. Inmates in the concentration camp had to make life-or-death decisions every day. Why did some make the “right” decisions and survive while others did not?

5. Discuss some of the small acts of humanity carried out by individuals in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. How did these small acts of kindness have greater implications? Did it make you reconsider what you believe to be brave or heroic? Did this make you think differently about the impact of your own everyday actions?

6. The Tattooist of Auschwitz makes clear that there were also non-Jewish prisoners in the camp. How did the treatment of Jews differ from that of non-Jews? How did differences manifest themselves?

7. Had Gita and Lale met in a more conventional way, would they have developed the same kind of relationship? How did their circumstances change the course of their romance?

8. In what ways were the relationships between Gita and her friends different from the usual friendships between teenage girls? In what ways were they similar?

9. In what ways was Lale a hero? In what ways was he an ordinary man?

10. Lale faced danger even after the camp was liberated. How did his experiences immediately after liberation prepare him for the rest of his life?

11. How does The Tattooist of Auschwitz change your perceptions about the Holocaust in particular, and war in general? What implications does this book hold for our own time?

#LeedsReadsBookclub May/June – The Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us

Our recommended read and this month’s book club book is The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. 

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions. It’s about a jealous wife, obsessed with her replacement. It’s about a younger woman set to marry the man she loves. The first wife seems like a disaster; her replacement is the perfect woman. You will assume you know the motives, the history, the anatomy of the relationships. You will be wrong.

Download the book via Borrowbox (by following this link or downloading the Borrowbox app onto your android or iOS device) in either eBook or eAudiobook format. Don’t worry about having to wait for the book – it can be read by lots of people at the same time, making it ideal for a book club book.

Below are some topics and questions for you to consider when reading the book. For this guide and more information on the book visit the authors website greerhendricks.com

  1. On page 7, Samantha asks Nellie one of the defining questions of the novel: “Ever think he’s too good to be true?” At what point did you start to think that Sam might be right, and Richard might actually be too good to be true?
  2. What do you think is the significance of Vanessa’s new job at an upscale clothing store? How might it affect her to still be in the upper class world she once occupied, but in a much different role? Compare and contrast her experience there to her previous job as a teacher.
  3. Throughout the novel, Aunt Charlotte and Vanessa have an extremely close relationship, even when Vanessa struggles to be honest with her aunt. How do you see this relationship affecting the choices Vanessa makes? Is there someone in your family with whom you have a similar bond?
  4. When did you realize who Vanessa, Nellie, and Emma actually are? How did this new understanding shape your experience of the rest of the story, and how do you think it will affect your experience if you reread the novel?
  5. On page 162, Vanessa says, “I guess I thought marrying Richard would erase my concerns. But my old anxieties simply yielded to new ones.” Do you think that that is a common misconception about entering into a marriage? If so, why do you think so many men and women believe this?
  6. The Wife Between Us asks difficult questions about how much someone’s past can explain or excuse their behavior. What’s your opinion? Did getting to know more about Vanessa’s or Richard’s backstory help to explain or justify their choices at all?
  7. The theme of sight – foresight, hindsight, and even real, physical eyesight – is wound throughout the entire novel. Maggie, the young sorority pledge, repeatedly says, “I hate it when I can’t see.” Do you think that anyone in this novel could (or should) have been able to see more clearly the consequences of their actions? Do you believe in the old saying, “Hindsight is 20/20?”
  8. Did the end of the novel leave you questioning who was really calling the shots and who had a full picture of what was going on? Which character do you think was truly orchestrating the events that were set into action – or was there more than one person responsible? Why do you believe this?

Join us to discuss this book on Twitter on Thursday 18th June at 5.30pm. Don’t forget to use #LeedsReadsBookclub in your tweets.

Librarian’s Choice – Book Group Favourites

This blog comes from Julia, a Community Librarian based in the south of the city.

If asked about my taste in fiction, my answer would have to be ‘eclectic’, as some of my favourite reads are from completely diverse genres.  And that’s one of the reasons why I love being part of Leeds Libraries’ readers’ groups which give me the opportunity to read books that otherwise I probably wouldn’t select …only to discover some terrific stories. (Never judge a book by its cover!) Here are just some of the novels that I’ve enjoyed at Book Clubs and would recommend that you try:

julia-burial-ritesBurial Rites by Hannah Kent:

A debut novel, inspired by a true story, Burial Rites is set in Iceland in 1829 and tells the tale of Agnes, accused of a brutal murder and billeted with a family at a bleak, remote farm over winter, to await execution.  Well written and atmospheric, the story is compelling and the central characters described in detail.  The exploration of various relationships develops into a strong examination of the effect of the State forcing a family to accept a prisoner living amongst them and the turmoil of emotions which this brings.

julia-little-strangerThe Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

A ghost story – or is it? It’s up to you to decide!  This gothic novel is set at the end of the Second World War, when the NHS is just being established, the class system is changing and big old houses such as the one featured, are falling into disrepair, abandoned in the drive for modernity.  The protagonist is a young doctor whose mother had once worked at the house and who remembers the family’s halcyon days.  However, there are some spooky goings on; or are they just imagined by the various damaged individuals who live at or visit the property?

julia-guernsey-literaryThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Charming, funny, engaging, tear-jerking, heart-warming…. I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to descriptive words for one of my very favourite reads, which even features its own readers’ group within its plot!  It’s a story set at the end of World War Two, told through a series of letters exchanged between writer, Juliet Ashton and her friends and colleagues.  But when she receives a letter from a stranger who lives in Guernsey, little does she know that her life is about to change forever.

julia-place-of-executionA Place of Execution by Val McDermid

A real ‘page turner’ which gripped me from the word go and kept me captivated until the very end.  Fantastic crime fiction but with hint of realism as the story unfolds against the backdrop of the true crimes of moors murderers, Brady and Hindley.  A 13 year old girl, Alison Carter, has gone missing from the small, close-knit northern village of Scarsdale and DCI George Bennett steps up to lead the investigation.

julia-the-earth-humsThe Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan

Interesting and easy to read, this story is set during the 1950’s in a small Welsh town where everyone knows everyone else’s business!  The protagonist is 12-year-old Gwenni Morgan, the ‘voice’ of the book, through whose innocent eyes we see the comings and goings of her family and neighbours (including some fabulous characters) but as the story unfolds, the complexities and problems which lie below the surface of their lives are explored and family secrets are revealed.  A beautifully written and thought provoking book which prompted an enjoyable discussion at Book Club.

julia-the-language-of-flowersThe Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

You’ll never look at a bouquet in the same way after reading this book – and you’ll certainly choose your flowers with care after learning of the Victorian meanings associated with particular blooms.   The emotional and enthralling story of Victoria Jones, a young woman making the transition from a difficult childhood into adult life and for whom her own understanding of the language of flowers brings hope for the future.

julia-the-last-runawayThe Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

This is the story of Honor Bright, a young Quaker woman, jilted by her fiancé, who runs away from her life in England for the challenges of America in the early 1800s where she comes into contact with ‘runaways’ of a different kind.  The plot addresses themes of personal honour/values, the Quaker belief in equality, slavery and what some will do to help others despite the dangers involved. These were brutal times but issues raised still resonate in today’s world.  An easy read with interesting plot twists and well researched history.

julia-roomRoom by Emma Donoghue

It doesn’t seem quite right to say that I ‘enjoyed’ this book which tackles dark and harrowing subject matter but I was totally captivated by the story, told through the realistic voice of 5-year-old Jack who is held captive with ‘Ma’, in a single room.  It’s an emotional but utterly compelling read; hair-raising at times, when I could hardly bear the suspense.  (No surprise then, that it has subsequently been made into a film.)  Brilliantly written, heartfelt and thought-provoking, I do recommend that you give it a try.

julia-the-invention-of-wingThe Invention of Wings by Sue Monk-Kidd

This book was inspired by the story of real sisters from the early 19th Century, who ultimately took a prominent role in the abolitionist movement. The fictional story, set in the American Deep South, is told via the alternating and interlinked narratives of Sarah Grimke, and her slave, Handful.  It is a moving read, exploring powerful issues including the parallels between the limitations of the life of a slave at the time, and that of her wealthy mistress.

julia-the-goldfinch

 

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Don’t be put off by the sheer size of this book (circa 800 pages) as the story is a captivating read which will quickly draw you in!  With action in New York, Las Vegas and Amsterdam, the plot follows the fortunes (and misfortunes) of young protagonist, Theo Decker who survives a terrorist explosion at the Metropolitan Museum and absconds with his mother’s favourite painting, a priceless Dutch masterpiece.  However, the story is much more than an account of what happens next; exploring themes of love, loss and loyalty through a variety of brilliantly drawn characters.