It’s been a hot minute since I posted a review (2 weeks?!?). Lets be serious, I simply wasn’t in a huge reading mood lately… I’ve been super excited to read this book- Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly when I put the hold to check it out from my local Library… but even with that excitement, I literally finished reading it the day it was due back! Trust me when I say this book is GOOD. I mean, WOW. It’s Kelly’s first novel and it is so in depth (very well researched, in my opinion) and well written!! She obviously poured herself into this book, and it paid off so well.
So, Lilac Girls is a rotating story line between 3 woman during WWII in various locations (Poland, Germany, and America/Paris). I would say the foremost main character (in my opinion) is Kasia, a Polish teenager who is captured and then imprisoned as a political prisoner in Ravensbrück (a women’s concentration camp). The next most prominent character is Caroline Ferriday who works at the French consulate in New York. Finally, Herta Oberheuser, a German doctor that works at the Ravensbrück camp and operated on the “Ravensbrück Rabbits”, would be the 3rd most important character to this story. Each character has their own thoughts they share and opinions about the situation unfolding in Europe during the 2nd World War… Kasia’s voice was the one that I looked forward to most.
This book beautifully ties in the stories of these three women, plus a slew of other critical characters. Clocking in at 496 pages, Kelly does not save breath when telling this story, and for this I am so grateful! Kelly is able to touch on the pains and woes of ever character (even Oberheuser- the book villian!) Loosely based on true stories, Kelly does justice to each character, that’s for sure! Do not be alarmed about the page count- it goes by so quickly.
Here are some things I liked/disliked about the main characters (plus a couple backdrop characters):
- Kasia- I loved Kasia’s story. At one point she states she was held up by love during her time in the camp… To me, that was so moving. Her care for family and loved ones is way too inspiring. Maybe this is why I was so disappointed when she was not able to show the love and care that she had in her heart towards her husband and daughter after she was freed. Although the pain and anguish in her heart was understandable, I just wish she was able to fight through for the loves she had. Again- this is why Kelly did such a great job! I loved Kasia and was disappointed with her actions because I liked her that much!
- Caroline- I didn’t feel one way or another about Caroline. According to Kelly, there is a real life Caroline who did really help the “Ravensbrück Rabbits” (those women who were subjected to unauthorized experiments by the doctors at Ravensbrück). Although Caroline was a strong women and independent character, much of her story floated on a relationship with a famous actor that played little to do with the actual story line. To me, their shared story line (which never fully ties off in the end) could have been left out.
- Herta Oberheuser- Based off the real Ravensbrück doctor, Kelly (in my opinion) gives a sympathetic side to this evil doctor. Herta’s back story is sad, but it still did not loosen my heart to her in the slightest. I was curious if her Aunt ever confronted her about Herta and her Uncles “run in”… but, alas, I was left with no clues. Also- what did Herta’s mother even say when she was back to the apartment??! I was so curious what else happened with her story line, but on the same hand, I realize her character was not deserving of additional attention.
- Matka- Kasia and her sister’s (Zusanna – forgive me if this name is misspelled… I’ve returned the book so I can’t double check) mother who is of German decent. She, like Zusanna and Kasia, is imprisoned in the Ravensbrück camp. She uses her German heritage to befriend Herta and obtain a coveted position within the camp that allows her access to to benefits the others do not get. This eventually costs her dearly. I found Matka to be…. well….. untrustworthy. Although Kasia obviously loves her dearly and Matka tries to pass her benefits to others, I just felt that it was betrayal to befriend the Germans in the first place.
- Zuzanna- I loved Kasia’s sister Zuzanna! She was such a sweet and gentle person. Her nature in the entire book, and her ability to forgive, made me levitate to her as a person. I desperately wish there was more in this book for just her. Her voice would definitely have been welcomed.
There are many, many other characters in this book, but these are by far the most important.
If I had to boil this book down to one topic of focus, it would be the resilience of the Woman. Literally, everything in this book is about love, sisterhood, redemption, forgiveness. It’s about finding the method to overcome the hardships that life has dealt you and to fight for the goodness. It highlights that if you stray from the goodness you get the karma you deserve (Herta eventually gets what she is owed!) The power of woman is shown again and again and again in this book, in every single generation! What a beautiful story it told, honestly.
Would I buy this book? Yes! Absolutely. Some Amazon reviewers seem to gripe about the story venturing from the truth… Even if the whole entire story line is fictional, it had a story worth hearing… Mind you- it is listed as Fictional! But, with it’s ties to the truth in some ways, it still is a powerful and meaningful book. This will be on my book shelf soon!
Have you read this book?