Alice O’Keeffe, Books Editor at The Bookseller, said: “Our shortlists this year took the judges from Georgian London to the Second World War to contemporary New York. There are books from exciting fresh voices at the very start of their career, contrasted with books from with well-established brand authors at the top of their game. These are the books that sum up 2018 but which, we think, will be read for years to come.”
While one may rejoice that love flourished even in the darkest pit of humanity, I felt uneasy at an apparent glossing over of the concentration camps’ unremitting misery with sugary romance. The choice to tell Lale’s story as fiction distances the reader from the terrible reality and makes it difficult to judge what really happened at the level of human interactions. A non-fiction account might have been a better option, though perhaps less beguiling to readers.
In describing their courtship, Morris’s prose can sometimes lapse into that of a bad Hollywood script (the book was in fact originally conceived as a screenplay): two starving Auschwitz prisoners ripping off their clothes to have sex, for example. Or a description of Lale spending “long hot summer days with Gita, or with thoughts of her”, during a period when an estimated 330,000 Hungarian Jews are sent to their deaths. Rather than the novel’s love story, perhaps, the disturbing psychology driving the relationship between Lale and Baretski might have proved a more complex, rewarding element for Morris to have explored... It took three years of thrice-weekly meetings between Lale Eisenberg and Heather Morris for the author to gain the survivor’s trust. For that alone, readers should be indebted to Morris: Lale was a man of Herculean moral strength, and his Odyssean story of humanity, survival and eventual reunion with Gita, deserves a wide audience.