Thursday, March 10, 2016

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Summary by Amazon:

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.

My Thoughts:

     Lilac Girls is based on a true story but is classified as a work historical fiction.  If you enjoyed The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (one of my favorite books of 2015) you will enjoy this book.  I love reading books from the World War II era and especially when they are from the female perspective as we rarely get to see that in movies or television.

     Lilac Girls offers us three very different perspectives from the war:
     Caroline, who is in her late 30’s at the beginning of the war, lives in New York City and is the real life heroine of this story.  A former Broadway actress and socialite she has given up the limelight to volunteer at French Embassy. 
Caroline’s activism helped many before and after the war. Her story and selflessness are extraordinary and I find it very sad that until this book it was never really heard. Caroline’s home in Connecticut where she housed many of the prisoners from Ravensbruck (called the Ravensbruck Rabbits) is now open to the public. 
     Kasia, a teen at the start of the war, is a half German/half Polish girl living in Poland.  She becomes involved in activities with the resistance and eventually is taken a prisoner and sent to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for women where experimental surgeries were performed on prisoners, with her sister, mother and several friends. 
Kasia’s determination to survive and get her family back home are inspiring and made her a character that you want to root for and see happy again.  While Kasia’s character, as well as her family, is fictionalized they are very realistic and help to give you the inside perspective of the war and the concentration camps.  They give you a sense of the despair and heartache but also the strength of the victims and how they never gave up.
Herta is a German medical doctor in her 20’s working for the Reich in the Ravensbruck hospital.  At first I thought there was a chance that I might actually like Herta because I felt that she was just brainwashed like most of the Germans at this time.  I kept waiting for her disillusionment and for her to leave the Reich but sadly, she did not.  This character, like Caroline, is a real part of World War II history.
Lilac Girls was an amazing story of the women and children of World War II that we don’t often hear about and I am so glad that I read it.  So many times we forget that many people suffered who were not on the frontlines and many not on a battlefield were also real life heroes. 

4/5 stars*

*I was given an ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Caroline Ferriday with some of the Ravensbruck Rabbits.





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