There are no words really to explain how I feel about the fact that The Child of Auschwitz is out today. Amazed, elated, scared … none of this fits, what was without a doubt, one of the biggest labours of love of my career, so far.
I was never meant to write this novel. It happened, almost by accident, when I was confronted with writer’s block for the first time. The real, movie-type nonsense I’d scoffed at for years. My theory was, you sat down at your chair and you wrote. Inspiration was for people without deadlines or contracts to fulfil… Except as I was trying to write the book I was contracted to write, the words would not come. Weeks passed, and … nothing. I forced myself to write something but it was flat and just wouldn’t come alive. It was really painful.
Then, out of nowhere, I came across a story about a woman whose mother had given birth to her after surviving a concentration camp. Her body was so malnourished and weak, she was told that the chances of her ever having a child was impossible. Yet, somehow, she did. It was one of the most beautiful and inspiring stories I’d ever come across. This idea grabbed hold of me and would not let go. While I was meant to be writing that other book, I became obsessed, wanting to know more about women like her, and incredibly I came across women who were pregnant in Auschwitz. Suddenly, I knew what I desperately wanted to write about – only now I had to convince my editor. I wrote the first page and a synopsis in a fever, and incredibly, she said yes.
It tested me beyond anything I have ever done before, and my wonderful editor, Lydia, who I dedicated the book to, held my hand every step of the way, believing in me when I inevitably fell apart not believing I could actually do this. I cannot emphasise how kind and supportive she was, and how much I lent on her and somehow made it through to the other side.
Anyway, I just wanted to let you know how it happened, and why there’s a bit of a lump in my throat as I share the news: it is out today.
I really hope you like it.
‘She touched the photograph in its gilt frame that was always on her desk, of a young, thin woman with very short hair and a baby in her arms. She had one last story to tell. Theirs. And it began in hell on earth.’
It is 1942 and Eva Adami has boarded a train to Auschwitz. Barely able to breathe due to the press of bodies and exhausted from standing up for two days, she can think only of her longed-for reunion with her husband Michal, who was sent there six months earlier.
But when Eva arrives at Auschwitz, there is no sign of Michal and the stark reality of the camp comes crashing down upon her. As she lies heartbroken and shivering on a thin mattress, her head shaved by rough hands, she hears a whisper. Her bunkmate, Sofie, is reaching out her hand…
As the days pass, the two women learn each other’s hopes and dreams – Eva’s is that she will find Michal alive in this terrible place, and Sofie’s is that she will be reunited with her son Tomas, over the border in an orphanage in Austria. Sofie sees the chance to engineer one last meeting between Eva and Michal and knows she must take it even if means befriending the enemy…
But when Eva realises she is pregnant she fears she has endangered both their lives. The women promise to protect each other’s children, should the worst occur. For they are determined to hold on to the last flower of hope in the shadows and degradation: their precious children, who they pray will live to tell their story when they no longer can.
A heart-breaking story of survival, where life or death relies on the smallest chance and happiness can be found in the darkest times. For fans of The Choice and The Tattooist of Auschwitz.