As the literary controversy over the Australian publication of a sex-up Holocaust romance novel tailored mostly for female readers “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” continues to swirl around the publishing capitals of Melbourne, London and New York, the author of the book Heather Morris does not seem to be paying any attention to the public criticism her little book has been receiving from Jewish journalists, Holocaust scholars and revealing newspaper articles in the Australia media.
Morris, a well-intentioned and compassionate first-time novelist in her late 60s who is not Jewish herself and by her own admission knew very little about the Nazi Holocaust or Jewish history before she got involved in concocting her make-believe concentration camp tale set in the 1940s of wartime Europe, continues to go on promoting her book around the world and giving interviews to gullible journalists and PR people and visiting a dozen countries in North America and Europe for photo opportunities and Facebook updates without once facing up to or replying to some of the more negative comments her bestselling novel has been getting.
On her public Facebook fan page, Morris ignores entirely the very public criticism that has appeared in newspapers in her own country and the U.S, and Britain. As she gallavants from one country to another like a jet-setting literary rock star, she seems to be stonewalling and refusing to face the reality of what she has done — writing such a lightweight romance about a very heavy subject.
She posts a positive Facebook update about a recent New York Times review of the audiobook edition of the novel, voiced by dashing British voice-actor Richard Armitage, that was headlined ”A Novel About the Death Camps, Brought to Vivid Life in Audio.”
Morris comments on her Facebook page: ”What a magnificent review of the audiobook! Thank you so much to reviewer Christina Baker Kline and the New York Times.”
And she quotes this part of the review: “Morris works hard to convey the devastating reality of daily life in a concentration camp. Her compassion for her characters, combined with Armitage’s riveting delivery, makes this an immensely satisfying book to listen to, whatever else you might happen to be doing (in bed listening at home or while driving in your car).”
But Mrs. Morris doesn’t quote to her Facebook fans this rather negative and revealing part of the same review by Baker Kline:
”The relationship between Lali and Gita, with its progression from love at first sight to giddy infatuation to deep commitment, sometimes strains credulity. It’s hard to imagine that malnourished prisoners with lesions and shaved heads might have had the autonomy, impulse and ability to carry on a torrid love affair. The language of romance can seem jarringly out of place when contrasted with the starvation, mutilation and murder of thousands around them.”
Morris never once mentions or links to the negative headlines her book has received recently from major newspapers in Australia, America and Britain. No, her fans must not be told the raw truth and Morris must pretend she is living a kind of New Age la-la land of blue skies and rainbows — and her fans eat it up, as their comments attest.
The Facebook page is not about the late Lali and his wife Gita, the Holocaust survivors who figure so importantly in her novel. No, it’s all about the starry-eyed Heather and the famous and sexy VIPs she meets in the greenrooms of TV studios in New York and London.
For example, Morris links to the Times review of the audiobook, but refuses to link to the sober profile of the book by Guardian book beat reporter Alison Flood in the London newspaper titled: ”’The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ attacked as ‘inauthentic’ by Auschwitz research center in Poland.”
Flood wrote in the Guardian: “When approached by the Guardian, Morris declined further comment.” She told ‘The Australian’ newspaper in Sydney, which first covered the research center’s report in a devastating article by veteran Jewish journalist Fiona Harari: “I have written ‘a’ story of the Holocaust, not ‘the’ story of the Holocaust. I have written Lali’s story.”
Harari added: ”In November, Morris told the New York Times: ‘The book does not claim to be an academic historical piece of non-fiction, I’ll leave that to the academics and historians’.”
On Facebook, Morris gets all giddy when she tells her fans that the famous British novelist Jeffery Archer sent an “unsolicited” blurb for her book to her London publisher, writing:
”Unsolicited comments from Jeffery Archer. Wow. He wrote: ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz is kind of book you lose sleep over, and not just because you can’t put it down. They will be reading this book in 100 years’ time. In fact, it may still be on the bestsellers list then’.”
On early August last summer, Morris updated her FG page to read: ”August 1 and I’m stoked that The Tattooist of Auschwitz has made it onto this longlist of best books of the year. If anyone cares to vote for it to be on the shortlist I would be very grateful. Some amazing company of famous authors to be in. Oh and here’s the new cover with the Jeffery Archer quote ‘They will be reading this book in 100 years’ time’.”
But scholars will surely be debating Morris’ storytelling techniques for decades to come, as more and more Holocaust novels and movies surface in other Western countries, not only in Australia but also in Germany, France, Spain, Holland, Norway and Italy. So much for that ”unsolicited” Jeffery Archer PR blurb.
While Morris has always said the story is Lali’s story and Lali’s book, on her book tour overseas, it’s all about Heather Heather Heather. Very little about the Holocaust, very little about Lali and Gita. It seems that fame of being a bestselling first-time novelist has gone to the author’s head.
Newspaper headlines such as ”The Tattooist of Auschwitz attacked as inauthentic by camp memorial center in Poland” and “Auschwitz researchers dismiss book about Auschwitz camp tattooist due to inaccuracies” and “Memorial Research Centre says it cannot recommend ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ as meaningful reading, adding that it is ‘almost without any value for use in Holocaust education classes’ ” and “Bestselling ‘Tattooist of Auschwitz’ love story blurs facts, experts allege” don’t seem to get linked on Morris’ Facebook page. Here no bad news, speak no bad news, seems to be her and her marketing team’s strategy for communicating with the author’s fan base.
Ans this headline from The Daily Mail newspaper in the UK “The Tattooist of Auschwitz controversy: Author in clash with Holocaust survivor’s son Gary Sokolov over ‘mistakes’ in international bestseller” never appears anywhere on Heather’s Facebook page.
The subheadline in Lauren Ferri’s article was even more damning. but Morris’ fans never saw it: “Controversy has risen between author of ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ and the subjects’ son Gary Sokolov. Author Heather Morris, and Mr Sokolov have now had ‘issues’ over alleged ‘mistakes’ in bestseller and Morris goes after Gary’s wife for making trouble over the move rights and Lali’s actual first name.”
Even a major Australian newspaper in Sydney ran the headline “Tattooist of Auschwitz distorting reality, say custodians,” adding: “The administrators of Auschwitz have warned historical errors in The Tattooist of Auschwitz are distorting wider understanding about Nazi period.”
Since Morris was born and raised in New Zealand and later immigrated to Australia for work in Melbourne, a popular New Zealand website ran this headline about the evolving controversy in the Australian and British media: ”Auschwitz Memorial claims ‘numerous errors’ in Kiwi’s Holocaust love story.”
The accompanying subheadline read: “A New Zealand author has come under fire for “inconsistent” and “exaggerated” facts in her bestselling novel ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’.”
Morris also never posted on her FB page this book review from a travel website which said of the novel on a blog: “Indeed, the author describes terrible things: the evil and perverted Josef Mengele and his inhuman practices, the stereotyped SS dolts who supervise the camp’s prisoners, the near death experiences, the persecution, hardship and defilement. And yet. This feels like a lightweight treatment of a heavyweight subject.”
Another book review which never made the author’s Facebook updates: “Novels like ‘The Good Doctor of Warsaw’ by Elizabeth Gifford, ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ by John Boyne and ‘If This is a Man’ and ‘The Truce’ by Primo Levi offer the gravitas and insight that this period of history deserves. ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ feels more populist and rather lacks authority and congruity. It is however very readable’.”
But the Auschwitz Memorial center posted a negative comment on Morris’ Facebook page which, to her credit, she did not delete: “In the new edition of “Memoria” magazine dedicated to Holocaust history, remembrance and education we have published a thorough historical fact-checking review of ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ by Heather Morris.”
”While her novel states: ‘Every reasonable attempt to verify the facts against available documentation has been made,’ it has actually not been made. Quite the contrary. The number of the factual errors, exaggerations and misinterpretations in this book disqualify it as a source of knowledge about the history of Auschwitz. The story of Ludovit Eisenberg deserved better.”
Mrs. Morris, to her credit, did not delete that comment from the center’s website team.
Morris’ Facebook page adds photos to illustrate her comment: ”Drinking ‘slivivitz’ on top of a mountain in Krompachy (Lali’s hometown) with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor. A special brew, 80 percent alcohol. Oh my liver.”
On October 30 she posted: “It’s been a crazy, busy week in Slovakia and Poland. Of course visiting Lali’s hometown once again and drinking waaaay too much slivovitz with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor are stand-out moments. I want to thank the many, many people I have had the chance to meet in both countries for their overwhelming warmth and friendliness. This truly is a special part of the world. Thank you.”
She added: ”I will be in Auschwitz tomorrow morning (Tuesday) with a heavy heart.”
Back in London again, she wrote, doing a bit of name-dropping: “A long 9-hour day in London today. Day started being informed I have been long-listed for the prestigious Specsavers National Book Awards. Then long interview with journalist for ‘The Mail on Sunday’ whose last interview was with Liane Moriarty; followed by podcast recording, one of the interviewers yesterday was in conversation with Ian Rankin.”
About the TV series that is maybe in the works and maybe not, Heather noted on FB that one of her friends, Christa Stewart, had told her earlier in the year: “I had no doubt this TV project would happen, and I’m thrilled for you! (And secretly hoping they can attach Richard Armitage to the project somehow, he read it so well for the audiobook edition!)”
Heather replied: “Hey, I’ve already mentioned it to the producers that I’d like him on board. I’m thinking he could play Schwarzhuber from the book and I’ll enlarge his role. What do you think?”
And she added: “Thank you for your interest in the TV project. Making a miniseries four or six one-hour episodes will allow us to not only do justice the book but to have extra material added. I’ve spent time with one of the UK producers and the Jewish-Australian screenwriter Jackie who has been engaged to write the script, and I love them both. Very confident they will do an amazing job and I am the script consultant attached to the project.”
A follow-up novel about Cilka planned for 2019
When a Facebook fan told Heather that she had ”spent a lot of time thinking about Cilka — her story is just so tragic and I heard that you are doing a followup to the first novel with a new novel about Cilka and I look forward to it but will have the tissues ready.”
Mrs. Morris replied: “I am getting in information and research about Cilka and my planned trip to Slovakia is to interview people connected with Cilka so I am so excited to be telling her story now, too. If my wonderful publishers have their way, the new book will be published in July 2019. I’m confident of hitting that deadline.”