The Tattooist of Auschwitz: When Fact & Fiction Blur

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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? 

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A Syllabus for Writers

Writerly Wednesday

 

One of my favourite things about going to University was the syllabus. Every fall and Winter semester, I’d excitedly pour over the books on my course lists before running over to the campus bookstore and filling my bag with hundreds of books. Being an English major, there were always a lot of novels to read, which I loved! When I left school, it felt strange—like I’d lost something special. Recenlty, while in a writing rut, I decided to create my own writerly syllabus for inspiration. If you’ve ever been (or are currently) in a rut, consider these titles. Or, better yet, why not add on some new ones?

Honing your craft 101: Inspiration & Other Important Writerly Things

 

  1. Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg & Julia Cameron
  2. The Trickster’s Hat, by Nick Bantock
  3. The Pocket Muse, by Monica Wood
  4. The Art of Character, by David Corbett
  5. Damn Fine Story, Chuck Wendig
  6. Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder
  7. Writing Fiction, Janet Burroway
  8. The Superior Person’s Book of Words, by Peter Bowler
  9. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
  10. Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes
  11. The Seven Basic Plots, by Christopher Booker 
  12. Naming the World, by Bret Anthony Johnston

Bruised Ego 201: a salve for the burn of rejection

  1. Real Artists Have Day Jobs, by Sara Benincasa
  2. The Gift, by Lewis Hyde
  3. How to Get Published in Literary Magazines, by Allison K Williams
  4. Zen and the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury
  5. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert
  6. Daring Greatly, Brene Brown

How Did They Do It 301: Following in the Paths of the Greats

  1. House of Dreams, by Liz Rosenberg
  2. On Writing, Stephen King
  3. Negotiating with the Dead, Margaret Atwood
  4. Jane Austen at Home, Lucy Worsley
  5. The Bronte Myth, Lucasta Miller
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, Humphrey Carpenter
  7. Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, Ruth Franklin

Independent Study 401: Read Widely

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…This one is really up to you. Sometimes, I like to make myself a list of books from the same genre that I’m writing in, or even books that might evoke the same feeling that I am trying to convey in my own book. If that doesn’t work, read what you love and inspiration will follow.

What books do you read to help inspire your writing practice? Why not write them in the comments below?

Top Ten Tuesday: Canadian Books that I Love

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I’m taking some liberty with this week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic, (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl), since we’ve just had Canada Day in my neck of the woods, and also since most of my bookshelf has been packed up I don’t have that many “red, white and blue” books in my possession at the moment. So here are a few of my favourite Canadian books in honour of Canada Day:

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood – I love books that are disturbing because they feel just a bit too familiar and Margaret Atwood is the queen of writing narratives that hit just a little bit too close to home.
  2. A Complicated Kindess, by Miriam Toews – Life in the strictly religious Mennonite town of  East Village isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. At least, that’s what hilarious, sardonic Nomi Nickel discovers. This book will break your heart in all of the right ways.
  3. The Stone Diaries, by Carol Shields – I’m a sucker for anything even the slightest bit meta-fictional, because, well, I just like books that seem to be aware of their… book-ness. Also, the fictional autobiography that Shields creates is pretty unique.
  4. The Witches of New York, by Ami McKay – Witches! History! Nudity! McKay delivers it all! (*I can’t actually remember if there was nudity, but it just felt like there needed to be a third thing in there and nudity seemed to fit.)
  5. The Diviners, by Margaret Laurence – I think I loved The Diviners mainly because Morag Gunn was a writer, but also because it was an interesting female coming of age story.
  6. SuperMutant Magic Academy, by Jillian Tamaki – A satire on the genre of “kid goes to magical school,” Tamaki’s own version of a magical high school is hilarious because it is full of underage drinking, teen angst and of course, unrequited love. It is supremely hilarious!
  7. Hark! A Vagrant! by Kate Beaton – Another hilarious graphic novel that I will never stop reading. Who says history has to be boring?
  8. Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maude Montgomery – I fell in love with Anne of Green Gables when I was a little girl, but if I’m being honest here, I kept on re-reading the series because I had a HUGE crush on Gilbert Blythe.
  9. Fifteen Dogs, by Andre Alexis” I wonder”, said Hermes, “what it would be like if animals had human intelligence.” And then? Things get weird and wonderful and thought provoking.
  10. Fifth Business, by Robertson Davies – This book blew my mind in high school. It’s all about discovering that there is truth in the uncanny.

 

Even if you aren’t Canadian, what are your favourite Canadian books?

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Decided to DNF Too Quickly

 

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I don’t always participate in Top Ten Tuesday, which is a blog meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, but this one caught my attention. I’m not the kind of reader who doggedly slogs through a book that I’m not enjoying. If I don’t like a book, or if it just doesn’t grab me in the first fifty or maybe one-hundred pages, I set it aside. Most of the time, it’s with the promise that I will return to the book when my narrative taste buds hunger for something else, but sometimes, I just don’t go back. I’ve even been known to (only once!) throw a book in the garbage (gasp!) because I really, really didn’t like it. (Book lovers, I promise that it was only once and I –probably — won’t do it again).

So here’s a list of books that I (sort of, maybe) promise to return to. You know, one of these days…

  1. Jane Steele, by Lindsay Faye – Reader, I’m sure this is a great book, but I didn’t make it past the first few pages.
  2. Origin, by Dan Brown – Will God survive science? I have no idea… I got about half-way through and just… I don’t know.  I figured that he’d save the world, I just wasn’t sure that I cared how he did it this time. Sorry, Professor Langdon. Maybe I’ll join you on your next adventure.
  3. The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins – Bizarre alien-like angel things! A mysterious library! A murder mystery! And yet… I set it down after the first two chapters. This is one that I might actually pick up again. #lies
  4. Hausfrau, by Jill Alexander Essbaum – Hausfrau might have been described as “Madame Bovary meets Fifty Shades of Grey,” but I never quite made it past the Bovary parts.
  5. The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling – I found the lack of Harry Potter disturbing.
  6. The Death Cure, by James Dashner – It was better when they were being chased by weird, creepy aliens in a maze.
  7. Catch 22, by Joseph Heller – This one is a mystery. My husband reads it once a year and laughs hysterically.
  8. Six of Crows, by Leigh Bardugo – I started this one on the plane ride home from Norway, but…maybe I was just too tired to finish it.
  9. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman – Eleanor Oliphant might be  completely fine, but I found the plot just a bit too slow at first.
  10. The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss – I started this one three times, each time only reaching the very start of the story that Kvothe tells. Then, one day I got stuck on a long car ride through the fog and suddenly, I was hooked. When I finished it, I was glad that I did. Maybe this one doesn’t count officially as a DNF, but it makes me think that there is still hope for the other books on this list…

 

Sorry books that I DNF! I might just come back to you later…

What books have you left on a shelf in favour of something else? What makes you set down a book for good?

We’re More Victorian than we Think

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As someone who grew up watching The X-Files and visiting every ghostly landmark I could find, I am a total sucker for a good ghost story.  If the Victorians hadn’t been so uptight about other things, I might even pine for that long lost era, because those guys really knew how to spin a good spectral yarn.

If you’ve read The Turn of the Screw, then you’ll know what I mean.  I’ve been thinking lately that perhaps, despite our modern society, we are still in some ways just a little bit Victorian in our fascination with the supernatural. Which leads me to ask this question: are we more Victorian in our literary proclivities than we realize?

Why Ghost Stories?

So what is it about ghostly tales that draws us in? One author suggests that at least for the Victorians, gas lamps and carbon monoxide hallucinations might have been to blame for the increased interest in ghost stories, but that doesn’t account for those of us living in the present, does it? Other theories suggest that a shift in economic times increases the interest in ghost stories and Neil Gaiman has even written a few words on the subject here, but I have another theory.

The Modern Ghost

What if the popularity of ghost stories were connected in some way to the growth of technology?

If you thought that spirit photography was an old, weird tradition, how do you account for the many many pictures purporting ghostly encounters online? Or the youtube videos declaring true sightings. And this type of “true footage” story lives on in the film industry too, with titles such as Paranormal Activity, a story that chronicles the demonic stalking of a young woman through security camera footage. This certainly might account for the reason people still want to hear ghost stories, but what about the Victorians?

Victorian, At Heart

If you think about it, in some ways, ghost stories were connected to “modern” technology for the Victorians too. With the development of the electric telegraph and the radio, people were suddenly able to be in better contact with one another and to hear a real-live disembodied voice speaking across air waves, but they were still in some ways disconnected from one another.

Steamships could deliver them farther than they might have thought possible and the railroads were opening up new routes of travel too. Just like us, the Victorians were experiencing a change in the way that they found human interaction. Similarly, in a world where we are increasingly connected, yet disconnected, is it really such a stretch that we would yearn for an everlasting connection to our world even after death?

 

Anxiety, Loneliness & the Spook

If you look at a ghost story like The Open Door by Margaret Oliphant (1885), which is about a boy who hears a frightening noise in his house and begins to go mad and compare it to something like Asylum by Madeleine Roux (2013) which in many ways deals with similar themes of anxiety and loneliness, it feels like the stories we tell time and again are scratching at the door of something much larger. Perhaps it is some unchecked fear of the collective unconscious that speaks to an increasingly anxious population of readers.

Whatever the case, I have a feeling that ghost stories aren’t about to disappear any time soon.

What’s your favourite ghost story?