Book Review: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Lilac Girls has been all over every major book list of 2017. For all those who loved The Nightingale and All the Light We Cannot See, this is definitely up your alley. Inspired by the life of Caroline Ferriday, Lilac Girls tells the story of three women, beginning when Hitler invades Poland in 1939. Caroline, a former theater actress, works for the French consulate in New York. Kasia Kuzmerick is a Polish teenager working for the underground resistance in Lublin, Poland. Herta Oberheuser is a German doctor assigned to Ravensbrück, the only all-female concentration camp.
The story follows the three women from 1939 until the late 1950s. Caroline is a New York socialite who helps fund packages for French orphanages and begins a relationship with a French actor, Paul, who defies the Vichy French government and is imprisoned at a work camp. Kasia is a Polish teenager working for the underground resistance movement, but gets caught and sent to Ravensbrück along with her sister, mother, and boyfriend’s sister. Herta is the camp doctor at Ravensbrück and at first is disgusted with what she is expected to do, but then becomes immune as she believes she is doing what is best for Germany.
Martha Hall Kelly spent several years researching Caroline Ferriday and the Polish Rabbits from Ravensbrück. The Rabbits were a group of Polish women at Ravensbrück, who had experimental operations performed on their bodies. The term "Rabbits" was coined because the women had to hop around like rabbits after the horrible disfigurement from these experiments, as well as the fact that they were basically treated like animal test subjects.
I’ve read my fair share of World War II novels, and this one is definitely one of the best I’ve read. No matter how much I read about what happened in concentration camps, I still am always horrified. Reading about how apathetic Herta was to these women made me sick. But her story is thought-provoking. She never really showed any remorse for what she did and even after being sentenced to twenty years in prison (but only serving five), she quietly went back to practicing medicine, before eventually having her license revoked after outrage from former Ravensbrück prisoners and Caroline Ferriday. I had never read any WWII books (fiction or non-fiction) from the perspective of a Nazi. Most points of views are from those who were involved in underground resistance or were a part of the British or American military. Herta's perspective was unique and fascinating when compared to the often told stories of people like Caroline and Kasia.
Lilac Girls is a wonderful read and if you are looking for a good historical novel, this is a great one. I give it 5 stars! And according to Martha Hall Kelly's website, she is writing a prequel focusing on Caroline and her mother, Eliza. Can't wait to read that one!
Also, one of my favorite moments of the whole book is in Kasia's story. She mentions how she once read that when you fall in love, it feels like when you close a compact and it goes "click". I love that image. And Kelly even dedicated the book to her husband Michael, who still makes her compact go click. Swoon.
Let me know what you thought about Lilac Girls or any other WWII recommendations.