Lilac Girls: A Novel

by Martha Hall Kelly

Paperback, 2017

Status

Available

Call number

PS3611 .E452

Genres

Publication

Ballantine Books (2017), Edition: Reprint, 544 pages

Description

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * For readers of The Nightingale and Sarah's Key, inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this powerful debut novel reveals an incredible story of love, redemption, and terrible secrets that were hidden for decades. New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline's world is forever changed when Hitler's army invades Poland in September 1939--and then sets its sights on France. An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences. For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power. The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents--from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland--as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten. In Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly has crafted a remarkable novel of unsung women and their quest for love, freedom, and second chances. It is a story that will keep readers bonded with the characters, searching for the truth, until the final pages. USA Today "New and Noteworthy" Book * LibraryReads Top Ten Pick "Harrowing . . . Lilac illuminates."--People "A compelling, page-turning narrative . . . Lilac Girls falls squarely into the groundbreaking category of fiction that re-examines history from a fresh, female point of view. It's smart, thoughtful and also just an old-fashioned good read."--Fort Worth Star-Telegram "A powerful story for readers everywhere . . . Martha Hall Kelly has brought readers a firsthand glimpse into one of history's most frightening memories. A novel that brings to life what these women and many others suffered. . . . I was moved to tears."--San Francisco Book Review "Extremely moving and memorable . . . This impressive debut should appeal strongly to historical fiction readers and to book clubs that adored Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale and Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See."--Library Journal (starred review) "[A] compelling first novel . . . This is a page-turner demonstrating the tests and triumphs civilians faced during war, complemented by Kelly's vivid depiction of history and excellent characters."--Publishers Weekly "Kelly vividly re-creates the world of Ravensbrück."--Kirkus Reviews "Inspired by actual events and real people, Martha Hall Kelly has woven together the stories of three women during World War II that reveal the bravery, cowardice, and cruelty of those days. This is a part of history--women's history--that should never be forgotten."--Lisa See, New York Times bestselling author of China Dolls "Profound, unsettling, and thoroughly . . . the best book I've read all year."--Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member msbaba
I have strong mixed feelings after reading Martha Hall Kelly’s debut historical novel “Lilac Girls.” It took me considerable time to warm to the novel and its characters, but by the time I finished it, I felt pleased with what I’d read. I felt I’d spent my time reading something worthwhile, enjoyable, and uplifting. I was planning to give it a strong four-star rating. But then I read the “Author’s Notes” at the end and did a little investigation into the lives of the real-life characters covered in the book. Unfortunately, the more I read, the more I started to dislike the novel and wish I’d spent my precious time reading something else. Let me explain.

“Lilac Girls” is a work of historical fiction “inspired by the life” of a real World War II heroine, Caroline Ferriday. The book focuses in particular on her work (a decade after the close of WWII) to help the surviving “Ravensbrück Rabbits.” These were a special group of approximately seventy Polish women who survived internment by the Nazis in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. They were special because they had been used in that facility for inhumane medical experimentation. Following the War, they returned to the Poland (which eventually became closed off “behind the Iron Curtain”); there, they continued to suffer without adequate medical attention for their physical and psychic war wounds. Caroline Ferriday heard about them and spearheaded a philanthropic program (a decade after their release) that was successful in bringing thirty-five of the surviving women to the United States for intense medical and (posttraumatic stress) psychological rehabilitative treatment.

The author tells Ferriday’s story by creating a work that seemed, at first reading, in every way like a historical reenactment, but I later discovered that the bulk of content was almost entirely fiction! The book is structured as three interwoven first-person narratives. Primarily, it is the story of American socialite and heiress Caroline Ferriday’s life. Secondarily, it is the story of Kasia Kuzmerick, a fictional character who the author invented as a composite of many Polish Ravensbrück Rabbits. In a minor way, the book also takes on the first-person narrative of real-life Nazi Doctor Herta Oberheuser, the surgeon who performed the inhumane medical experiments on the Ravensbrück Rabbits. Chronologically from 1939 through 1959, we follow each of these three characters’ lives in interwoven, frequently cliffhanging chapters. I’d say 50 percent of the text is devoted to Caroline’s story, 40 percent to Kasia’s and only 10 percent to Herta’s.

Why did I like this novel? Primarily, I took pleasure in the author’s writing style as well as the historical importance and terrifying drama of the events. Specifically, I liked the way Kelly was able to put me inside the period and settings. She made me feel like I was there. It was fun being part of New York high society in the pre-WWII era, brushing shoulders with the fabulously wealthy, as well as famous actors, politicians, and socialites of the day. And when the novel placed me inside the Ravensbrück concentration camp, I was able to begin to understand (and, of course, deeply empathize with) the horrendous misery, fear, and pain that those women had to endure.

In the beginning, I was hesitant to read the book because I knew it was about Nazi medical experimentation; I assumed it might be a gut-wrenching literary experience…and, yes, parts of it were. But I have to emphasize strongly that the book very successfully balances those atrocities with plenty of uplifting stories about the women, their everyday lives, and their romantic entanglements. As a result, most of the book actually celebrates the good things that women do to support each other emotionally and physically…especially when the need is urgent.

It was this celebration of women’s goodness toward each other that made me love this book and want to give it a high rating.

So why was my good opinion of this book completely upended after I read the “Author’s Notes” and did some historical research on the subject?

Basically, I was offended that Caroline Ferriday’s life as an extremely active and significant lifelong philanthropist was not enough to “carry” her story….that the author felt she had to make up a world-renowned, extraordinarily handsome lover for Caroline and focus almost all of her story about Caroline on the ups and downs of that fictional relationship. Ferriday was a woman of exceptional integrity and intelligence, a woman who dedicated her life to major philanthropic projects. Even though she was an American, she was awarded two of France’s highest civilian honors for her tireless dedication to better the lives of French war orphans. Even though she had enough inherited wealth to luxuriate in a life of total pleasure-seeking, she chose to work daily, hard and long, at high level unpaid jobs for volunteer and philanthropic agencies. In my research, I could find absolutely nothing about her love life. Despite the fact that she was quite beautiful, she never married. In that era, she was called a spinster. Perhaps she was not interested in romantic relationships with men? Do we know? Would Caroline have been happy with this fictional account of her life? Somehow, I don’t think so. I think she’d be shocked that her whole life had been turned into something she wouldn’t recognize.

Are we not living in an era when woman do not need a man in their life in order to be taken seriously? Can’t a great woman be celebrated for her deeds and not artificially made interesting only in relation to the men in her life?

I was also disappointed to learn that Kasia, the Ravensbrück Rabbit character, was a fictional composite. Yes, indeed, her story made the book fascinating and taught me much about what happened to these women. But, when I thought back on the major events in the novel, and particularly those at the end, I felt robbed and emotionally manipulated.

Lastly, I felt that Kelly’s treatment of Dr. Herta Oberheuser was ineffective at best and misleading as worst.

If I hadn’t learned more about the true history behind this novel, I’d have given it a strong four-star rating. But with what I know now, two stars makes my point.
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LibraryThing member MaggieG13
Lilac Girls
By Martha Hall Kelly
Ballantine Books – April 5, 2016 - 469 pages
Historical Fiction

Rating: 2 stars

The story is told in first person via three main characters: Caroline, wealthy American socialite; Kasia, young Polish woman; and Herta a young German woman just starting her medical career. The chapters alternate among the three women.

Caroline is a hardworking philanthropist, carrying on a long family tradition of working for social justice and taking charitable action in general. Kasia is a teenager in Poland at the outbreak of the Second World War, in love with a boy who gets involved with the resistance as soon as the Germans invade their country. In her desire to please him and show her own patriotism, she manages to get herself, her sister Zuzanna in medical school, and their mother arrested by the Germans who ship all three off to a women’s “re-education center” named Ravensbruck. Herta has been assigned to this camp by the German Reich, her initial position as a physician. She ends up performing medical experiments on some of the inmates including Kasia and Zuzanna, as part of research on how to treat injured German soldiers.

At the end of the book, the author writes several pages explaining how she got involved in this story. Caroline and Herta are actual people while the Polish victims in the story are composites, based on the research she did on the Nuremberg trials, memoirs, letters, etc. She actually went to Europe and visited these places, taking her teenaged son with her. Therefore, it is surprising to me that she didn’t do a better job of historical accuracy. Yes, she visited the remnants of the Ravensbruck camp, took the train ride described in the book. But, her use of terms such “overachiever, talk therapy, cutting to release stress,” was jarring. People did not use those terms back then. They also did not wear their hearts on their sleeves. Control of emotions was the order of the day. Her characters are far too modern in their quest for warm fuzzies and their concept of post traumatic stress.

Her command of language is good, but she padded this book and it could easily have been cut by about 100 pages. Too many descriptions about everyone’s wardrobe, food and drink at the high society parties, name dropping of celebrities and political figures attending the same parties as Caroline. Calling Senator John F. Kennedy a political bigwig in 1957 was completely inaccurate – he was the junior senator from Massachusetts, not a political bigwig at all.

She made none of these three major characters likeable. Caroline is written as a rather superficial woman, a spinster (honest word of that time period) in her late 30s in 1939, who seems to be devoted to these causes, such as helping French orphans, only because she is not married, has no children, and so she might as well justify her existence. Kelly writes her as perpetually perplexed at her lack of success with men and invents a married lover for her, who is actually a French actor. This was not Caroline’s life at all. She was gorgeous, never married, but there is no historical evidence that she was ever involved with any married man or pined away about her single state. Her family had a long history of faith in action, sharing not only their money but their time and influence with people in need. Kasia comes off as simply stubborn and spoiled, not as a strong woman. Herta is painted as a puppet of the Reich, although she began as a young doctor with a conscience. We are never given a hint as to how she managed to compromise her ethics and act as a surgeon who deliberately crippled 70+ healthy young females.

In short, this is the type of book that gives historical fiction a bad name. More attention to the mores, attitudes and language used at the time of the era would put the emphasis on “historical” rather than “fiction.” This is an important story and it deserved more attention to truth and fewer frills.

Rating: 2 stars

The story is told in first person via three main characters: Caroline, wealthy American socialite; Kasia, young Polish woman; and Herta a young German woman just starting her medical career. The chapters alternate among the three women.

Caroline is a hardworking philanthropist, carrying on a long family tradition of working for social justice and taking charitable action in general. Kasia is a teenager in Poland at the outbreak of the Second World War, in love with a boy who gets involved with the resistance as soon as the Germans invade their country. In her desire to please him and show her own patriotism, she manages to get herself, her sister Zuzanna in medical school, and their mother arrested by the Germans who ship all three off to a women’s “re-education center” named Ravensbruck. Herta has been assigned to this camp by the German Reich, her initial position as a physician. She ends up performing medical experiments on some of the inmates including Kasia and Zuzanna, as part of research on how to treat injured German soldiers.

At the end of the book, the author writes several pages explaining how she got involved in this story. Caroline and Herta are actual people while the Polish victims in the story are composites, based on the research she did on the Nuremberg trials, memoirs, letters, etc. She actually went to Europe and visited these places, taking her teenaged son with her. Therefore, it is surprising to me that she didn’t do a better job of historical accuracy. Yes, she visited the remnants of the Ravensbruck camp, took the train ride described in the book. But, her use of terms such “overachiever, talk therapy, cutting to release stress,” was jarring. People did not use those terms back then. They also did not wear their hearts on their sleeves. Control of emotions was the order of the day. Her characters are far too modern in their quest for warm fuzzies and their concept of post traumatic stress.

Her command of language is good, but she padded this book and it could easily have been cut by about 100 pages. Too many descriptions about everyone’s wardrobe, food and drink at the high society parties, name dropping of celebrities and political figures attending the same parties as Caroline. Calling Senator John F. Kennedy a political bigwig in 1957 was completely inaccurate – he was the junior senator from Massachusetts, not a political bigwig at all.

She made none of these three major characters likeable. Caroline is written as a rather superficial woman, a spinster (honest word of that time period) in her late 30s in 1939, who seems to be devoted to these causes, such as helping French orphans, only because she is not married, has no children, and so she might as well justify her existence. Kelly writes her as perpetually perplexed at her lack of success with men and invents a married lover for her, who is actually a French actor. This was not Caroline’s life at all. She was gorgeous, never married, but there is no historical evidence that she was ever involved with any married man or pined away about her single state. Her family had a long history of faith in action, sharing not only their money but their time and influence with people in need. Kasia comes off as simply stubborn and spoiled, not as a strong woman. Herta is painted as a puppet of the Reich, although she began as a young doctor with a conscience. We are never given a hint as to how she managed to compromise her ethics and act as a surgeon who deliberately crippled 70+ healthy young females.

In short, this is the type of book that gives historical fiction a bad name. More attention to the mores, attitudes and language used at the time of the era would put the emphasis on “historical” rather than “fiction.” This is an important story and it deserved more attention to truth and fewer frills.

This review is based on a copy of the book obtained at NetGalley.
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LibraryThing member medwards429
It is hard to rate a book such as this given the subject material as well as personal preferences. This is one such book.

“Lilac Girls”, a fictional World War II era story, is Martha Hall Kelly’s first novel. This story is based on actual people and events – particularly Caroline Ferriday and Herta Oberheuser’s involvement with the Ravensbrück Rabbits. The story takes place from September 1939 to 1959.

Don’t let the beautiful cover fool you – this is anything but a “beautiful” story, at least for me it wasn’t. It is a story of tragedy, and while marketed as a tale of redemption – I didn’t find it. I found it to be gut-wrenching and dismal. There were some moments of positivity, such as the rescue and the reparation attempts, but given the subject – it was not a feel good read. I don’t know if that was the author’s intention or not.

The key players and alternating points of view (POV), told over three “parts”:

o Caroline Ferriday, a volunteer and socialite
o Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish girl
o Herta Oberheuser, a German doctor at Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women

Other characters in this book are also real life figures: Dorothea Binz and Irma Grese, two of the wardresses of Ravensbrück. Other famous Nazi names are dropped as well.

The atrocities committed against the characters, is not fiction at all. The author kept the characters names of Ferriday, Oberheuser, Binz, and Grese – along with other Nazi figures, but created the sisters Kasia and Zuzanna for the story.

The book is long read, the hard cover version is 476 pages for the story. There are some parts that are stretched out, and some that have a brushing glance.

Ferriday was (in this book and real life), a former actress, as well as a humanitarian. In September 1939, her life changes as Hitler invades France. She is a volunteer at the French Embassy in New York and in charge of providing relief to French orphans.

In the book, Ferriday also has a romance with a married French actor, who is then arrested and imprisoned in Nazi controlled France. The writer gave the fictional Ferriday the romance to connect her to France. It really wasn’t needed. The real Ferriday was connected through her work, and her work is a part of history. I wonder if Ferriday was anything like the writer portrayed in this book as I didn’t find her character interesting.


Kasia (the fictional inmate, at Ravensbrück) is a 17 year old in war torn Poland. She, her sister, and mother are arrested and taken to Ravensbrück. There Herta Oberhauser performs medical experiments on the women to simulate battle wounds and the effectiveness of sulfanilamides – these were real tests conducted by Oberhauser at Ravensbrück. Due to these experiments the “ladies” were referred to as rabbits for the reason that they “hopped” around the camp after the surgeries and were used as experimental rabbits.

The first part covers from September 1939-April 1945, and at 291 pages is the longest part of the book. It ends with Herta’s capture by the allies.

Part two covers from April 1945 to 1947 when the war is over and Kasia along with her sister have been liberated, briefly touching on Herta’s war crimes trial. She, unlike the others who were executed, was sentenced to 20 years. One chapter is devoted to her (pages 356-360). The fates of Binz and Grese are not exactly told either, more particularly Binz as she was quite prominent in the book during the Ravensbrück chapters, and given her real life fate.

As the book heads to the end with now mostly Kasia as the narrator, and occasionally Caroline; Herta is not “heard from” again from chapters 34 to 47 (pages 356 to 466). Herta is then only heard from Kasia’s interactions with her, and this is because Caroline asks Kasia to travel and identify the woman. Herta is now a family practice doctor in West Germany after serving only five (5) years of her sentence.

While Kasia seems to dislike what is happening in Poland, under Communist rule, she makes no effort to try to leave her life unlike her sister. Zuzanna; despite everything that has happened; finds peace with her new life in the U.S, gets married, and even adopts a child (as she was sterilized at Ravensbrück).

I didn’t expect to find Herta as relatable or sympathetic at all, which I think is understandable give who she was and what she did.

My thoughts of Kasia were all over the place. To be blunt, I couldn’t stand her. How, after what she’d been through, could she be told quite simply to “get it over it” by those around her, even her own sister was beyond me. The atrocities that were done to her (and others) are nothing to get over like you would a bad haircut. That I understood; and sympathized with quite deeply.

Yet there were survivors who went through the same things she did and were not as bitter as she was – even her sister who had been sterilized. Kasia seemed intent on remaining bitter, even to the point of taking it out on her daughter that she named after her mother. It was as if Kasia, who was able to marry her childhood sweetheart after what had happened, could find NOTHING to be grateful for – not even her husband or daughter.

I believe the author tried to weave a fantastic story about what occurred. I think it would’ve been better to either create an entire fictional story around the events or write it as a “documentary”. The mix of real life characters with fictional ones didn’t work for me at all, especially the introduction of a fictional romance with a real life character.

A lot of the FOREIGN language used; French, German, etc; left me either confused or grabbing my phone and using Google. It would have been helpful if the author had placed a dictionary reference in the front or back of the book. Some things were translated, but not all.

The author did, in her notes, expand on what happened to Herta Oberhauser. She had been released in 1952 quietly by the Americans to curry favor with Germany. She was recognized by Ravensbrück survivor and her practice was shut down. She fought back with her letters, but Caroline fought back as well. Oberhauser was fined as punishment. She died in January 1978 at the age of 66.

Upon my research I found that Dorothea Binz fled Ravensbrück during the death march, was captured May 3,1945 by the British in Hamburg. She was tried with SS personnel by a British court at the Ravensbrück War Crimes Trials. She was convicted, sentenced to death, and subsequently hanged (by long-drop method) on the gallows at Hamelin prison on May 2, 1947 at the age of 27.

Irma Grese was convicted for crimes involving the ill-treatment and murder of prisoners committed at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. She was sentenced to death at the Belsen trial. Executed at 22 years of age, Grese was the youngest woman to die judicially under British law in the 20th century.

This one book that you either love or hate – it was, for me, a good one-time read. I’m glad my local library had it. I will be happy to return it so someone else can read it.
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LibraryThing member juliecracchiolo
Debut novelist Martha Hall Kelly spent 10 years researching and five years writing this haunting novel of three women as Hitler begins his mad march across Europe. It is based on the true story of an American philanthropist; a Polish woman incarcerated at Ravensbruck, the female-only Nazi concentration camp; and the only female doctor in that hellhole. “The story is told from three points of view: the victim, the hero, and the villain, together creating a complex picture of an unimaginable time in history” I cannot remember what review I read this sentence in, but it was powerful enough to warrant my writing it down. The novel begins in 1939 and ends in 1959.

We first meet the heroine. Hundreds, thousands, of people are fleeing France in advance of what they fear will happen: Hitler. Former actress and Broadway start Caroline Ferriday is now a humanitarian, doing her best to help as a volunteer at the French consulate in New York. One of the people who needs her help is French actor Paul Rodierre. Caroline spends her own money sending care packages to French children.

Next we meet the victim, Polish teenager Kasia Kuzmerick. Kasia works with underground, delivering messages. It’s very dangerous work. She is caught and sent to Ravenbruck, where she become one of the “Ravenbruck Rabbits,” women who were subjected to the Nazi SS leader Goerring’s medical experiments. The author was candid about what happened to these women, but did not go into such depth as to make this reader give up on the story. I had a basic knowledge of the experiments happening, but didn’t know any of the details.

Herta Oberheuser is the villain. An ambitious young doctor, she answer an ad in the paper for a government medical position and winds up performing horrendous atrocities on the Ravensbruck ladies. Herta is the most difficult character to understand. In 1939, she is eager to work in medicine, but as the war drags on, she seems almost eager to perform the experiments.

I found the shifting of point of view easy to follow. Well, except that the author did a great job leaving this reader hanging at the end of each section. I was sad to reach the conclusion of Lilac Girls. I wanted to keep reading about Caroline, Kasia, and Herta. I did, however, read somewhere that Hall Kelly is writing a prequel to this story. I personally can’t wait to get my hands on it. I literally flew through all 496 pages of this book in two days.

I give Lilac Girls 6 out of 5 stars; the highest rating in Julie’s world.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
My overall reaction to Lilac Girls is a mixed one. The book is divided into three part, the first focused on the early years of World War II and on through the defeat of the Nazis, the second on the years immediately following the war, and the third to the late 1950s. In addition to this division, each Part is divided into chapters narrated by three different characters. If you suspect this leads to some disjointure in the plot, well, you would be correct. It's not that it creates any confusion about what is going on, but rather that I kept wondering exactly how all of these various parts were connected. We don''t really find that out until nearly the end of the novel. In fact, I was left wondering about the significance of the title as the only mention of lilacs that I can recall is that in the final chapter, two of the characters are in a garden that includes lilacs.

The other issue I have is that the three women's stories are neither of equal length nor of equal development and interest. Perhaps the largest share is based on a real-life socialite, actress, and philanthropist, Caroline Ferriday. As it became clear that Hitler's invasion of France was inevitable, she took it upon herself to send relief packages to orphans and worked with the French Embassy to help citizens in the US gets visa, either to return home to France or to bring family members to the US. After the war, she was instrumental in securing medical care and reparations for a group of women know as the Ravensbruck Rabbits--women who had been the victims of Nazi medical experimentation. All of this should have been interesting enough, but the author for some unknown reason decided she had to create a grand passion for Caroline, making her fall in love with a married French actor. This entire plot line seemed both sappy and out of character, as did Caroline's reactions to the ups and downs of that relationship over the years.

Much more interesting was the story of Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager involved in the underground resistance. Her carelessness led to the arrest not only of herself but of her sister, her best friend, the boy on whom she had a crush, another schoolgirl, and her mother, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Pietryk, the young man, disappears, and the women are put on a train bound for Ravensbruck, the Nazi regime's only concentration camp designated solely for women. The detailed descriptions of life in the camp are truly harrowing; many are based on interviews the author conducted with a Ravensbruck survivor. In the novel's post-war sections, Kasia attempts to return to a life of some normalcy, but her psychological scars are as deep as her physical ones. Kelly's examination of her wounded psyche is one of the book's great strengths.

The third woman focused on is Herta Oberheuser, another real-life character. An ambitious young doctor, she was recruited by the Nazis to work at Ravensbruck where she willingly participated in the atrocities. There isn't much exploration of her character, whose chapters comprise less than 1/4 of the novel. Perhaps we are just meant to accept her as a brainwashed monster, but I am sure that I'm not the only one who wondered what really motivated her actions, how she felt about rejecting the Hippocratic oath, and whether what she had seen and done had any lingering effects on her. But Kelly gives us very few answers.

The end result is that I appreciated the atmosphere that Kelly describes in detail in each section and location, and parts of the story kept me reading eagerly while others had me skimming and skipping. The romances (there's one for Kasia, too, and even Herta is on the lookout for a pleasant male companion) and a number of unlikely coincidences were distracting and annoying. The cover photo of three women walking arm in arm suggests the theme of women working together, supporting one another--which made the emphasis on romance even more out of place. A good effort, not a bad book, but one that, due to the flaws outlined above, I can only give a mediocre rating.
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LibraryThing member ddelmoni
For a first novel the topic, story and research of Lilac Girls are interesting enough to recommend it. The prisoners and medical experiments at Ravensbruck have barely been touched in fiction and should have been brought to our attention. As a first novel I could overlook vocabulary, pacing and other flaws, but not the reducing of Caroline Ferridays’ life to a tawdry fictional romance nor the fact that I should clearly loathe Dr. Herta Oberheuser far more than I did. If you’re a historical fiction and/or WWII aficionado don’t expect much. Taken as a whole, Lilac Girls is more for the Danielle Steele audience so it’s many shortcomings may be difficult to over look.… (more)
LibraryThing member flourgirl49
Although I thought this was an excellent debut novel, I did have a few quibbles with the book. Kasia (a prisoner at Ravensbruck) should have been the main character, along with the opposing viewpoint of Herta (a doctor at the camp who performed horrendous experimental surgeries on the prisoners). Instead, the author apparently wanted to highlight Caroline, a NY socialite who assisted in humanitarian efforts in France and who eventually brought the rescued Polish girls from Ravensbruck (the "rabbits") to the United States for treatment. If that was indeed the author's goal, I think she could have done a better job. The lilacs in the title of the book are rarely mentioned, and their significance is murky at best compared to the much larger issues addressed. Still, the subject matter is engrossing, and for a first novel, I thought it was very good.… (more)
LibraryThing member KMT01
This is an interesting story about events that happened in Nazi controlled Germany during WW II that we seldom or never hear about. The Nazis had a female concentration camp, at Ravensbrück, where they carried out terrible medical experiments on women. There are three main characters in the book: Caroline Ferriday, a NY socialite who works at the French Consulate; Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, who is a carefree teenager working for the underground resistance movement and who gets sent to Ravensbrück; and Herta Oberheuser, a young female doctor, who is forced to work at Ravensbrück and take part in the horrific experiments. The story, told from three different perspectives, follows these three through their daily lives during WW II and their lives after the war, beginning in 1939 and following through to 1959. Through her philanthropic efforts, Caroline Ferriday brought all the Ravensbrück survivors to the US for treatment after all they underwent during their time at Ravensbrück. The book focuses mostly on Carline and Kasia and their lives, with not as much focus on Herta. There was a lot for me in this book that was difficult to read and take, which I do not usually do, though I am glad I did in this case. As I read, I felt like I had been immersed right into the situations as things were happening. The author has given a fairly good picture of the difficulties, horror and health problems the “Ravensbrück Rabbits”, as the women in the Ravensbrück Camp have been called, underwent because of the Nazi atrocities. However, there are also countless episodes of support, romance and even uplifting moments in the story. I finished the book with a better appreciation for the difficult times WW II and the Nazis brought as well as a further appreciation of how well people can manage in horrendous times. I do not normally enjoy books about WW II and Nazis, but this one held my interest. The author did a superb job of taking the reader through all the horrific history of Nazi Germany and what this group did to humankind. I received this from NetGalley to read and review.… (more)
LibraryThing member melaniehope
This was an amazing story. I was surprised to learn that this is the author's first book. The story is so well written and such a powerful read. I think I felt every emotion reading this book. Each chapter is told from three different women's point of view. Charlotte is the older, socialite living in New York during WW2. Kasia, is a young Polish girl arrested for just barely helping the underground. She is sent, along with her sister and mother, to an all female concentration camp. Finally, Herta is a German doctor who is honored to be placed as a doctor in this same concentration camp. Although she is initially horrified at the reality of her job, she chooses not to leave and convinces herself of her higher duty to a strong German nation. I initially began the book believing it would be much more "light-hearted." To me, the cover is mis-leading. It shows the back of three women linked together and walking away. This story was a bit intense, but the research the author did (explained at the end of the book) shows how realistic it was and Ms. Kelly captured and wrote of the emotions of each character so authentically.

Everytime I began the chapters of Kasia and Herta, I braced myself at what I read. However, this book is a 5 star read. I can't wait to see more from this talented writer. I received a complimentary ARC.
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LibraryThing member iadam
I received a free advance e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This is an amazing piece of historical fiction written about real people who lived during WW II and the atrocities many endured. This is a very well written book and the author does an excellent job of developing each character. In this book the author lets the reader view WW II from the several perspectives--that of a New York socialite working for the French consulate and her relief work during WW II; the women political prisoners (rabbits) of Ravensbruck concentration camp and the horrors they endured; and a young, patriotic German female doctor who performed horrific sulfonamide experiments on the ‘rabbits’. The author has done an amazing amount of research and an excellent job of writing about real events and real people, some who endured and others who were murdered, during WW II in this piece of historical fiction. Let us never forget.… (more)
LibraryThing member JanaRose1
Based on true stories, this book alternates between three different women’s experiences during World War II. NY socialite, Caroline, works at the French consult. When Hitler invades France, her life is changed forever. Caroline, a Polish teenager, works as a courier for the resistance. When she is caught, she is forced to survive under horrible circumstances. German doctor Herta, is assigned to the Ravensbruck concentration camp, where she assists in a variety of medical experiments.

While reading, I didn’t realize this book was based on real people. I have never read a book from one of the rabbits of Ravensbruck, and found it extremely fascinating. All three points of view were valuable, and showed a rich variety of experiences throughout the war. I look forward to reading more from this author. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member susan0316
Just when you think that you have read everything that there is to read about WWII, a book like this comes along and you read about the effects of the war from an entirely new perspective. This is not only based on real people but it is a debut novel by an author that I predict we will be hearing from in the future. Its a fantastic novel and would be a great book not only for book clubs but for anyone who is interested in how badly people can treat others.

There are three main characters in the Lilac Girls
-Caroline Ferriday, a NYC socialite and former actress who works in the French embassy in NYC.
-Kasia - a Polish teenager who works with the underground once the Nazis invade Poland and who is arrested, along with her mother and sister and sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp.
-Herta - a German doctor at Ravensbruck camp who convinces herself that she is doing the right thing at the camp.

The novel is told in alternating chapters by each of the three main characters and the reader gets a total picture of what is going on in the US during the war as well as the atrocities going on in the camps. Ravensbruck was well known because medical experiments were done on some of the prisoners that were so inhumane it is almost unbelievable.

As difficult as part I of the book was to read, parts 2 and 3 took place after the war as the three women tried to renew their old lives. Much of it was also very heartbreaking but there was also hope for the future after the war.

This is a wonderful book, difficult to read at times but one that needs to be read!
(this book was given to me by NetGalley for a fair and honest review)
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LibraryThing member hubblegal
Don’t let the pretty cover fool you. This is a historical novel about the atrocious experiments performed on women at Ravensbruck in Germany during WWII. It makes for a very painful read but unfortunately it’s a story that needs to be shared time and time again. This book is based on fact which makes it all the more horrifying. While I have read articles about this camp before, I’ve never read a historical novel centered on this concentration camp for women.

There are three main characters that this book tells the stories of. Caroline Ferriday (a real-life person) works tirelessly for the French consulate in the US. She is a selfless woman who spends most of her time doing charity work, including ripping up her beautiful silk and satin costumes from her time as an actress to sew clothing for French orphans. There’s a love story included for Caroline with Paul Rodierre, a handsome married actor. This part of the story is not based on fact and I do wish the author had chosen not to include it. The only reason I can see that she did was to possibly fill in a more complete storyline for Caroline but it’s the only part that just doesn’t ring true and can sometimes be annoying. This love triangle is one of the reason I’m not giving this book 5 stars, which it otherwise deserves.

Kasia Kuzmerick (not a real-life person)), is a Polish teenager who gets pulled into the underground resistance movement with devastating consequences. Her story is a tragic one and is what makes this book such a painful read.

Then there’s Herta Oberheuser, a German doctor (also a real-life person). I’ve read plenty about Herta before reading this book and I do believe that the writer treats her more sympathetically than she should have. The author presents her as a young doctor who is trying to find her place in a world of men and is offered a position at Ravensbruck. Although she is at first resistant to killing healthy people, she stays for the good pay. As a fellow doctor tells her, “if we don’t do it, they’ll only get someone else to do it” and “it’s for the good of Germany”. There really isn’t enough fleshing out of this character’s transformation from reluctant to insensitive. Also, the author neglects to mention some of the atrocities on children performed by this doctor and only concentrates on the “rabbit” experiments and one elderly woman. I don’t feel there was enough emphasis on the monster this particular doctor was.

What I particularly liked about this book was the sisterly love and camaraderie between these women prisoners. As always during horrendous times when the blackness of human nature is prevalent, there are always those whose goodness shine through. I also liked that this book didn’t stop with the end of the war but continued to show what happens to each of the characters for years afterwards and the continuing impact of the events of Ravensbruck on them.

This was a very emotional, difficult read for me. The book is a well written debut. Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
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LibraryThing member knittingmomof3
The Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is an absolutely must read for those who enjoy historical fiction and for anyone who enjoys well written, well researched books. While the topics and atrocities are not, at times enjoyable, the author does an exceptional job writing about such horrors these girls faced and how each dealt with what happened to them during the war. The Lilac Girls is not to be missed.… (more)
LibraryThing member kremsa
I would love to give this book 6 stars! It amazes me that after all the stories I've read about World War II and the Holocaust there is always one more that has me asking "how have we not heard about this before?" I listened to the audio book version while commuting to NYC and even got off at the wrong subway stop because I was so engrossed in it. Martha Hall Kelly has done a magnificent job of researching and writing a book that reminds us that we should never forget what happened at Ravensbruck.… (more)
LibraryThing member Beammey
I loved this book, but then again I love historical anything, so that was a given. Heart wrenching at parts, but well worth the read. I really enjoyed this and wish I could have read it all in one sitting! Brilliant characters, brilliant writing. I would recommend this book. 5 out of 5 stars. Amazing.
LibraryThing member corglacier7
I'd recently read "Ravensbrück" by Sarah Helm, the nonfiction account of the eponymous Holocaust-era women's concentration camp. So "Lilac Girls" was a great counterpart, bringing to life the human element of the camp and its aftermath as a novel in three voices: Carolina (historical character, a New York socialite and humanitarian), Kasia (a composite of several historical women, a Polish concentration camp inmate and part of the medical experiments there), and Herta (historical character, a German doctor in the camp). Seeing these apparently disparate viewpoints eventually intertwine, and their different views of the same events, is a bit of masterful writing. It's a tough novel to read because of the subject matter, but the well drawn characters, the vivid relationships between women--both positive and negative--and the very meaningfulness of that subject matter make this one an excellent read, both for individuals and book club discussion. Tough to believe this is a debut novel!… (more)
LibraryThing member kdabra4
A moving, emotional WWII novel that was simply a pleasure to read because of the expert writing and handling of some difficult storylines. Coincidentally, while reading this, I was listening to A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France, a nonfiction account of French women deported to Auschwitz and then Ravensbrück, with many similar accounts of the depravity and horror taking place at these camps, during the same time periods. The books complement each other, but I have to say the fictionalized Lilac Girls was my preference over the two as it put me more deeply into the characters' heads and personal experiences.

Here we have three main characters:

Caroline Ferriday, based on a real person, she is a New York socialite in love with a married man who is a French actor gone home to his war torn country, and to his estranged wife. Caroline had a real backbone and savvy survival instincts (and not just that she sold her mother's silverware whenever some extra cash was needed).

Kasia is a headstrong Polish teen who was sent to Ravensbrück after failing at her first job helping the Polish underground. At the concentration camp, she and her sister Zuzanna were two of the 74 Rabbits, girls whose legs were experimented on by surgeons; ie. with the removal of bones and muscle tissue and the insertion of all sorts of bacteria and foreign matter. This is something I had heard very little about before, and was captivated by the shocking revelations.

Third is another real person, Dr. Herte Oberheuser, a medical doctor at Ravensbrück, not a character we get to know as well as the others and not at all likeable, of course, seeing as how she becomes involved in the surgeries. She goes from an aspiring young doctor to a willing participant in the Nazi nastiness with apparent ease.

When the stories finally converge, I was brought to tears many times.

It took me longer than usual to read Lilac Girls as I chose to savor just 2-3 chapters in a sitting, plus the book is a long one. This is definitely one of the best WWII books I have read, and my shelves are full of them as it's my favorite time period. I see a great future for this book and this author.
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LibraryThing member JCGirl
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly a historical novel influenced by a true story during World War II. The author takes liberty in the romance of the story. While reading the book, I did not know the story was true until the end of the book when the author lets you into the real life of history of these individuals. I loved this book because the author writes in the narrative of three of the characters. Anyone wanting to know about the hardship and turmoil of World War II and the help the Americans played in helping the women and children of Europe during a devastating time in our world would find this a fantastic read.… (more)
LibraryThing member QueenTaco
A really quick and engagin read! Very enjoyable. However, each of the main characters could have been developed more, especially Herta, who seems so emotionless and flat. It would have added a lot more to this novel if we had heard more from Herta, and the other two girls. Still a good read!
LibraryThing member susan.h.schofield
This was another amazing WWII novel that is based on actual people and events that I doubt many people know about. It tells the story of 3 very different women - Caroline Ferriday, a new York society woman who volunteers at French consulate, Kasia, a 17 year old Polish girl who is working with the underground movement and is arrested and sent to Ravensbruck and Herta Oberhauser, a only female doctor in the Nazi party at Ravensbruck. Each chapter focuses on a different woman at different points during and after the war. Both Caroline Ferriday and and Herta Oberhauser were real women. It was interesting to read a WWII novel that also included the perspective of a woman from the German side - the atrocities she committed are truly unimaginable. Fans of The Nightingale and All the Light We Cannot See will definitely enjoy this book. I highly recommend it and look forward to future novels from Martha Hall Kelly. Thanks to NetGalley for the Kindle edition ARC.… (more)
LibraryThing member lauriebrown54
It’s 1939. Upper class Caroline, working in New York City for her pet cause, the French Families Fund, is scrambling for money for French orphans. In Poland, teen aged Kasia is helping the boy she loves deliver things for the resistance, as the Germans have taken over her town, when she, her mother, her sister, and the boy are all taken captive by said Germans and sent to a re-education camp. German Herta, trained as a doctor but passed over for men, is working for her despicable uncle in his butcher shop when an opportunity arises to be one of the doctors in the re-education camp. She jumps at the chance to get away and to practice her profession. Through the course of WW 2, the lives of these very different women will become linked.

The most sympathetic character is, of course, Kasia. Her fate in Ravensbruck camp is better than many, but still horrendous. Herta, sexually abused by her uncle, is sympathetic at first, but as she becomes involved in the Ravensbruck experiments, even though she had little choice, I just couldn’t care about her feelings. Caroline, while important for the ending, seems extraneous. She’s a woman who did good things for the camp survivors, but reading about her life actually took away from the suspense of Herta and Kasia.

This is not an easy book to read. The gruesome atrocities of the concentration camp are vividly described. But it’s a compelling read; once I got past the first few chapters, I couldn’t stop reading. The tension is nearly unbearable at times. I was surprised to find at the end that these were real women, and the story is based on their lives. While books like this can be painful to read, I’m so glad to see them being published at a time when the world is in such turmoil as it is now!
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LibraryThing member tamarack804
I received an early copy of Lilac Girls from "Library Thing" and was glad I did. I love reading historical fiction plus like anything about WWII. The book takes us on a amazing trip to Ravensbruck an all woman's concentration camp. It tells in great detail the horrors of the happenings during imprisonment there from the prisoners point of view and also a only woman's doctor working at the camp. This book is very well written and it kept my interest throughout the book along with taking the story to what happened after the end of the war.. I learned a piece of history that I had not known before. The book is very well researched. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves historical fiction.… (more)
LibraryThing member wagner.sarah35
*I received this book through LibraryThing Early Reviewers.*

This is a beautiful novel of the intertwining of three women's lives, centered on the Nazi concentration camp, where medical experimentation on the female inmates occurred, in addition to other horrifying events. The medical experiments loom large in this book, as the central characters include a female doctor, one of her unwilling patients, and an American socialite who puts her efforts towards promoting treatment and reparations for the victims. I was initially queasy about the medical experimentation portion of the book, but this novel was well worth the read and I would encourage anyone interested in the period to read it.… (more)
LibraryThing member tjblue
Based on a true story. It tells the story of 3 women during World War II. This book draws you in. I didn't want to put it down.

Language

Original language

English

Original publication date

2016-04

Physical description

7.9 inches

ISBN

1101883081 / 9781101883082
Page: 0.6835 seconds