What’s Ashley Reading?: Cilka’s Journey

Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris

First line: Cilka stares at the soldier standing in front of her, part of the army that has entered the camp.

Summary: Sixteen year old Cilka Klein was sent to Auschwitz along with her family. One of the head SS officers of the camp notices her and moves her away from the other women. Over the three years she is kept in barracks 25 until the day the camp is liberated by the Russian forces. Upon their arrival she is arrested and charged with collaborating with the enemy. She is sentenced to fifteen years in a Siberian gulag.

When she arrives at the prison she finds a world that she has unfortunately become very familiar with. The forced labor and brutal conditions of the camp are not new to her. She makes friends with several of her fellow inmates but when she catches the attention of the female doctor her luck begins to change. With her work in the hospital she finds a way to make amends for the guilt about her past and maybe even start to feel love again.

My Thoughts:The Tattooist of Auschwitz was such a heartbreaking story. But I was beyond shocked by the story of Cilka. She was forced into a Russian prison after suffering for years in a concentration camp because she was raped for three years. It makes no sense. The poor girl is stronger than I can imagine I could ever be. I really cared about what happened to Cilka while reading her story. She did so much good in a terrible place. If only there were more people like her.

I never even considered that things like this happened to some of the survivors. It is sad that the “liberators” were nearly as cruel as the Nazis. Her time in the gulag is unbelievable. I know that the author did lots of research and she does a great job of bringing it to life. People need to know these things in order to try and stop them from happening again.

I felt like this was much better put together than the first book. It was not nearly as choppy.

FYI: This is a sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

Book Review: As Bright As Heaven

As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner

First line: Morning light shimmers on the apricot horizon as I stand at the place where my baby boy rests.

Summary: When the Bright family, Thomas, Pauline and their three daughters, decide that they are going to move to Philadelphia they believe that it will be a new start away from the sorrow of the last few months. Thomas is apprenticing his uncle’s mortuary business. This seems a strange place to bring a family after the loss of their infant son and brother but for Pauline it helps her heal and understand death better. But suddenly the war and the Spanish Flu descend on the family. They have to deal with more than they ever expected.

Highlights: Susan Meissner can write beautiful stories rich with historical detail and human emotion. Her characters are always amazing and deep. It was a very fitting time to read about the flu after the strong strain that hit the U.S. this year. It is also the 100th anniversary of the epidemic. I liked the love stories and the history.

“She says the flu wanted to make barbarians of us, to have us think life is not precious and the dead are not worthy of our kindest care. Our humanity is what made what happened to us so terrible. Without it, nothing matters.”

Of course I had to search Newspapers.com (using the link on our library website) to see how Wichita reported the events of the time.  It seemed that the who country shut down to help protect civilians from the dreaded flu that was wiping out millions of people.


Lowlights: I felt like the narratives of Pauline and Willa were not completely necessary. They did not provide too much to the story. The story could have been shortened by 50 pages or so. I ended up skimming the last 40 pages to see how the characters and story wrapped up.

FYI: I loved her book, The Secrets of a Charmed Life, which is set during the Blitz in London during World War II.