There seems to be surge of historical fiction books being written about the devastation to innocent people during World War II. Each and every one of these stories carries an important message – one that reminds us that we can NEVER forgot what happened during the holocaust. For a debut novel, Martha Hall Kelly does not disappoint. Her research behind this story brings to light a topic many may never have heard about prior to this book.
Lilac Girls is based off of true events about Polish women who sent to Ravensbruck, an exclusive concentration camp strictly for women that was known for its inhumane medical experimentations. This story takes place over the course of twenty years and is told from three different perspectives (Caroline – an American actress/philanthropist, Kasia – a Polish girl imprisoned at Ravensbruck, and a Herta – German doctor who performs experiments on these women.)
Caroline Ferriday is a true herione for her dedication to supporting orphaned children and women in need. The story starts with her determination to send packages to France to provide food and clothing to children who lost their parents during WWII and later aids several Polish women who survived tragedy at Ravensbruck. Throughout Lilac Girls Caroline never gives up her desire to help others even when she faces devastation in her own personal life.
Kasia was a young girl working for the resistance when taken with her mother and sister to Ravensbruck. She is one of several women who was pulled and experimented on through several forced surgeries. (These parts were shocking and difficult to read about.) Even when Kasia’s mother went missing from the camp, Kasia continued to do what she needed to do to survive and protect the other women who were experimented on.
Herta had just graduated medical school when she received this job working at Ravensbruck. She was thrilled to be chosen to work at a “reeducation” camp for women in a time when female doctors were a very rare occurrence. In the beginning, there was hope for Herta but as the story unfolds she stays loyal to the Nazi cause and performs these barbaric experiments on women in camp.
Truth be told, I struggled a lot in the beginning of Lilac Girls. I had a difficult time understanding Caroline Ferriday’s connection to the women in Ravensbruck and found it confusing to move from character to character in each chapter. I wanted to skip over the sections written from Caroline and Herta’s perspectives and find out more and more about Kasia, her sister, and mom. Reading about the travesties that happened at Ravensbruck made it even harder to read. Yet, I felt that I couldn’t give up on this one. Once I moved into Part Three and saw the connection between Caroline and the Polish women, I fell in love with the story. Lilac Girls is powerful. It is about hope and determination, love and family, relationships, and right and wrong. In the end, it was one of those novels that I will hold close and push others to read. I can’t thank NetGalley and Random House: Ballentine for this ARC.