Lilac Girls

Lilac Girls

4.5 31
by Martha Hall Kelly
     
 

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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 remarkable debut novel reveals the power of unsung women to change history in their quest for love, freedom, and second chances.

New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full

Overview

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 remarkable debut novel reveals the power of unsung women to change history in their quest for love, freedom, and second chances.

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.

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

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
02/15/2016
Kelly’s compelling first novel follows three women through the course of World War II and beyond. Caroline, a wealthy New Yorker, volunteers at the French consulate in New York, assisting refugees and raising funds. She meets Paul, a charming, married French actor, and sparks fly. Kasia, a young woman living in Poland during the Nazi invasion, works for the resistance until she is captured and sent to Ravensbruck, the women’s concentration camp. There, she encounters Herta, a doctor hired to help execute inmates and perform experiments. Though her mother is Herta’s trusted assistant, and even saved a camp guard’s life, Kasia is operated on, joining the “Rabbits,” inmates deformed from their surgeries. Meanwhile, Caroline loses touch with Paul when he returns to France to find his wife, and she finds herself tasked with keeping track of the growing concentration camp network for the consulate, learned from British intelligence. After the war, she travels to France to assist in locating missing people, where she learns about the Rabbits, including Kasia, who is struggling to let go of her anger and move on with her life. Despite some horrific scenes, 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. Agent: Alexandra Machinist, ICM Partners. (Apr.)
Library Journal
★ 04/01/2016
During World War II Polish teenager Kasia Kuzmerick's decision to join the Resistance movement in her hometown results in her being exiled to the brutal Nazi concentration camp of Ravensbrück. There she becomes a victim of German doctor Herta Oberheuser, whose misguided patriotism and ambition lead her to perform horrific medical experiments on prisoners. Meanwhile, American socialite Caroline Ferriday spends the war sending relief overseas while experiencing the pain of a tortured love affair. The trauma of the conflict continues long after 1945 for all three women. It's apparent that Kelly, who was inspired by real events and people, has done the research necessary to tell this extraordinarily powerful historical story well. She vividly evokes not only the horrors of the gruesome experiments but also the painful realities of trying to survive them and the difficult search for justice and closure afterward. While Herta remains a bit enigmatic compared to the other two main characters, the overall story of the three women's intertwining lives is extremely moving and memorable. VERDICT This impressive debut should appeal strongly to historical fiction readers and to book clubs that adored works such as Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale and Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See. [Previewed in "Editors' Spring Picks," LJ 2/15/16; library and academic marketing.]—Mara Bandy, Champaign P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews
2016-01-21
Kelly's three narrators are based on actual people whose destinies converged in or around Ravensbrück, Hitler's concentration camp for women. It's 1939: Hitler has invaded Poland, and although few suspect it, France is next. Caroline, a former debutante who, at 37, appears to have missed her chance for marriage, does charity work at the French Consulate in Manhattan. Requests for visas accelerate, as does demand for the care packages Caroline sends overseas. When her married would-be lover, Paul, leaves New York for Paris shortly before the Germans march in, Caroline fears the worst. Kasia, a former Girl Guide, joins an underground youth group after the Nazis occupy her hometown of Lublin, Poland. Soon she's arrested, along with her mother and sister, Zuzanna, a medical student. The women are sent to Ravensbrück, a concentration camp whose mission is to work the prisoners to death—those, that is, who aren't terminated immediately upon arrival. (A crude form of lethal injection is used, as the Nazis are still experimenting with more efficient means of mass murder.) Kasia watches in horror as one of her former teachers is fatally mauled by a dog set on her by Binz, the head guard. Young physician Herta, the third narrator, is a loyal German and Nazi. Although not happy about Hitler's edict that women doctors cannot be surgeons, she's less than upset when her father's Jewish doctor is deported. She accepts a post at Ravensbrück, where her Hippocratic oath is immediately compromised: her first duty is to dispatch an elderly prisoner. Her eagerness to scrub in quickly overcomes any remaining scruples as Herta conducts grisly surgical "experiments" on inmates, including Kasia. The women, many permanently maimed, who undergo these "studies" become known as the "Rabbits." Kelly vividly re-creates the world of Ravensbrück but is less successful integrating the wartime experience of Caroline, whose involvement with the surviving Rabbits comes very late. In this mashup of two war novels, the more conventional New York story pales by comparison.
From the Publisher
“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
 
“This is the kind of book I wish I had the courage to write—a profound, unsettling, and thoroughly captivating look at sisterhood through the dark lens of the Holocaust. Lilac Girls is the best book I’ve read all year. It will haunt you.”—Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
 
“Rich with historical detail and riveting to the end, Lilac Girls weaves the lives of three astonishing women into a story of extraordinary moral power set against the harrowing backdrop of Europe in thrall to Nazi Germany. Martha Hall Kelly moves effortlessly across physical and ethical battlegrounds, across the trajectory of a doomed wartime romance, across the territory of the soul. I can’t remember the last time I read a novel that moved me so deeply.”—Beatriz Williams, New York Times bestselling author of A Hundred Summers and The Secret Life of Violet Grant

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101883075
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/05/2016
Pages:
496
Sales rank:
1,042
Product dimensions:
6.70(w) x 9.40(h) x 2.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Caroline

September 1939

If I’d known I was about to meet the man who’d shatter me like bone china on terra-cotta, I would have slept in. Instead, I roused our florist, Mr. Sitwell, from his bed to make a boutonnière. My first consulate gala was no time to stand on ceremony.

I joined the riptide of the great unwashed moving up Fifth Avenue. Men in gray-felted fedoras pushed by me, the morning papers in their attachés bearing the last benign headlines of the decade. There was no storm gathering in the east that day, no portent of things to come. The only ominous sign from the direction of Europe was the scent of slack water wafting off the East River.

As I neared our building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-ninth Street, I felt Roger watching from the window above. He’d fired people for a lot less than being twenty minutes late, but the one time of year the New York elite opened their wallets and pretended they cared about France was no time for skimpy boutonnières.

I turned at the corner, the morning sun alive in the gold-leaf letters chiseled in the cornerstone: la maison française. The French Building, home to the French Consulate, stood side by side with the British Empire Building, facing Fifth Avenue, part of Rockefeller Center, Junior Rockefeller’s new complex of granite and limestone. Many foreign consulates kept offices there then, resulting in a great stew of international diplomacy.

“All the way to the back and face the front,” said Cuddy, our elevator operator.

Mr. Rockefeller handpicked the elevator boys, screening for manners and good looks. Cuddy was heavy on the looks, though his hair was already salt-and-peppered, his body in a hurry to age.

Cuddy fixed his gaze on the illuminated numbers above the doors. “You got a crowd up there today, Miss Ferriday. Pia said there’s two new boats in.”

“Delightful,” I said.

Cuddy brushed something off the sleeve of his navy-blue uniform jacket. “Another late one tonight?”

For the fastest elevators in the world, ours still took forever. “I’ll be gone by five. Gala tonight.”

I loved my job. Grandmother Woolsey had started the work tradition in our family, nursing soldiers on the battlefield at Gettysburg. But my volunteer post as head of family assistance for the French Consulate wasn’t work really. Loving all things French was simply genetic for me. My father may have been half-Irish, but his heart belonged to France. Plus, Mother had inherited an apartment in Paris, where we spent every August, so I felt at home there.

The elevator stopped. Even through the closed doors, we could hear a terrific din of raised voices. A shiver ran through me.

“Third floor,” Cuddy called out. “French Consulate. Watch your—”

Once the doors parted, the noise overpowered all polite speech. The hallway outside our reception area was packed so tightly with people one could scarcely step through. Both the Normandie and the Ile de France, two of France’s premier ocean liners, had landed that morning in New York Harbor, packed with wealthy passengers fleeing the uncertainty in France. Once the all-clear horn signaled and they were free to disembark, the ships’ elite streamed to the consulate to iron out visa problems and other sticky issues.

I squeezed into the smoky reception area, past ladies in Paris’s newest day dresses who stood gossiping in a lovely cloud of Arpège, the sea spray still in their hair. The people in this group were accustomed to being shadowed by a butler with a crystal ashtray and a champagne flute. Bellboys in scarlet jackets from the Normandie went toe-to-toe with their black-jacketed counterparts from the Ile de France. I wedged one shoulder through the crowd, toward our secretary’s desk at the back of the room, and my chiffon scarf snagged on the clasp of one ravishing creature’s pearls. As I worked to extract it, the intercom buzzed unanswered.

Roger.

I pressed on through, felt a pat on my behind, and turned to see a midshipman flash a plaquey smile.

“Gardons nos mains pour nous-mêmes,” I said. Let’s keep our hands to ourselves.

The boy raised his arm above the crowd and dangled his Normandie stateroom key. At least he wasn’t the over-sixty type I usually attracted.

I made it to our secretary’s desk, where she sat, head down, typing.

“Bonjour, Pia.”

Roger’s cousin, a sloe-eyed boy of eighteen, was sitting on Pia’s desk, legs crossed. He held his cigarette in the air as he picked through a box of chocolates, Pia’s favorite breakfast. My inbox on her desk was already stacked with case folders.

“Vraiment? What is so good about it?” she said, not lifting her head.

Pia was much more than a secretary. We all wore many hats, and hers included signing in new clients and establishing a folder for each, typing up Roger’s considerable correspondence, and deciphering the massive flood of daily Morse-code pulses that was the lifeblood of our office.

“Why is it so hot in here?” I said. “The phone is ringing, Pia.”

She plucked a chocolate from the box. “It keeps doing that.”

Pia attracted beaux as if she emitted a frequency only males could detect. She was attractive in a feral way, but I suspected her popularity was due in part to her tight sweaters.

“Can you take some of my cases today, Pia?”

“Roger says I can’t leave this chair.” She broke the shell of the chocolate’s underside with her manicured thumb, stalking the strawberry crèmes. “He also wants to see you right away, but I think the woman on the sofa slept in the hallway last night.” Pia flapped one half of a one-hundred-dollar bill at me. “And the fatty with the dogs says he’ll give you the other half if you take him first.” She nodded toward the well-fed older couple near my office door, each holding a brace of gray-muzzled dachshunds.

Like Pia’s, my job description was wide-ranging. It included attending to the needs of French citizens here in New York—often families fallen on hard times—and overseeing my French Families Fund, a charity effort through which I sent comfort boxes to French orphans overseas. I’d just retired from an almost two-decade-long stint on Broadway, and this felt easy by comparison. It certainly involved less unpacking of trunks.

My boss, Roger Fortier, appeared in his office doorway.

“Caroline, I need you now. Bonnet’s canceled.”

“You can’t be serious, Roger.” The news came like a punch. I’d secured the French foreign minister as our gala keynote speaker months before.

“It’s not easy being the French foreign minister right now,” he called over his shoulder as he went back inside.

I stepped into my office and flipped through the Wheeldex on my desk. Was Mother’s Buddhist-monk friend Ajahn Chah free that night?

“Caroline—” Roger called. I grabbed my Wheeldex and hurried to his office, avoiding the couple with the dachshunds, who were trying their best to look tragic.

“Why were you late this morning?” Roger asked. “Pia’s been here for two hours already.”

As consul general, Roger Fortier ruled from the corner suite with its commanding view of Rockefeller Plaza and the Promenade Cafe. Normally the famous skating rink occupied that sunken spot, but the rink was closed for the summer, the space now filled with café tables and tuxedoed waiters rushing about with aprons to their ankles. Beyond, Paul Manship’s massive golden Prometheus fell to earth, holding his stolen fire aloft. Behind it, the RCA Building shot up seventy floors into the sapphire sky. Roger had a lot in common with the imposing male figure of Wisdom chiseled above the building’s entrance. The furrowed brow. The beard. The angry eyes.

“I stopped for Bonnet’s boutonnière—”

“Oh, that’s worth keeping half of France waiting.” Roger bit into a doughnut, and powdered sugar cascaded down his beard. Despite what might kindly be called a husky figure, he was never at a loss for female companions.

His desk was heaped with folders, security documents, and dossiers on missing French citizens. According to the French Consulate Handbook, his job was “to assist French nationals in New York, in the event of theft, serious illness, or arrest and with issues related to birth certificates, adoption, and lost or stolen documents; to plan visits of French officials and fellow diplomats; and to assist with political difficulties and natural disasters.” The troubles in Europe provided plenty of work for us in all those categories, if you counted Hitler as a natural disaster.

“I have cases to get back to, Roger—”

He sent a manila folder skidding across the polished conference table. “Not only do we have no speaker; I was up half the night rewriting Bonnet’s speech. Had to sidestep Roosevelt letting France buy American planes.”

“France should be able to buy all the planes they want.”

“We’re raising money here, Caroline. It’s not the time to annoy the isolationists. Especially the rich ones.”

“They don’t support France anyway.”

“We don’t need any more bad press. Is the U.S. too cozy with France? Will that push Germany and Russia closer? I can barely finish a third course without being interrupted by a reporter. And we can’t mention the Rockefellers . . . Don’t want another call from Junior. Guess that’ll happen anyway now that Bonnet canceled.”

“It’s a disaster, Roger.”

“May need to scrap the whole thing.” Roger raked his long fingers through his hair, digging fresh trenches through the Brylcreem.

“Refund forty thousand dollars? What about the French Families Fund? I’m already operating on fumes. Plus, we’ve paid for ten pounds of Waldorf salad—”

“They call that salad?” Roger flipped through his contact cards, half of them illegible and littered with cross-outs. “It’s pathetique . . . just chopped apples and celery. And those soggy walnuts . . .”

I scoured my Wheeldex in search of celebrity candidates. Mother and I knew Julia Marlowe, the famous actress, but she was touring Europe. “How about Peter Patout? Mother’s people have used him.”

“The architect?”

“Of the whole World’s Fair. They have that seven-foot robot.”

“Boring,” he said, slapping his silver letter opener against his palm.

I flipped to the L’s. “How about Captain Lehude?”

“Of the Normandie? Are you serious? He’s paid to be dull.”

“You can’t just discount every suggestion out of hand, Roger. How about Paul Rodierre? Betty says everyone’s talking about him.”

Roger pursed his lips, always a good sign. “The actor? I saw his new play in previews. He’s good. Tall and attractive, if you go for that look. Fast metabolism, of course.”

“At least we know he can memorize a script.”

“He’s a bit of a loose cannon. And married too, so don’t get any ideas.”

“I’m through with men, Roger,” I said. At thirty-seven, I’d resigned myself to singledom.

“Not sure Rodierre’ll do it. See who you can get, but make sure they stick to the script. No Roosevelt—”

“No Rockefellers,” I finished.

Between cases, I called around to various last-minute possibilities, ending up with one option, Paul Rodierre. He was in New York appearing in a new American musical revue at the Broadhurst Theatre, The Streets of Paris, Carmen Miranda’s cyclonic Broadway debut.

I phoned the William Morris Agency and was told they’d check and call me back. Ten minutes later, M. Rodierre’s agent told me the theater was dark that night and that, though his client did not own evening clothes, he was deeply honored by our request to host the gala that evening. He’d meet me at the Waldorf to discuss details. Our apartment on East Fiftieth Street was a stone’s throw from the Waldorf, so I rushed there to change into Mother’s black Chanel dress.

I found M. Rodierre seated at a café table in the Waldorf’s Peacock Alley bar adjacent to the lobby as the two-ton bronze clock sounded its lovely Westminster Cathedral chime on the half hour. Gala guests in their finest filtered in, headed for the Grand Ballroom upstairs.

“M. Rodierre?” I said.

Roger was right about the attractive part. The first thing a person notices about Paul Rodierre, after the initial jolt of his physical beauty, is the remarkable smile.

“How can I thank you for doing this so last minute, Monsieur?”

He unfolded himself from his chair, presenting a build better suited to rowing crew on the Charles than playing Broadway. He attempted to kiss my cheek, but I extended my hand to him, and he shook it. It was nice to meet a man my height.

“My pleasure,” he said.

His attire was the issue: green trousers, an aubergine velvet sports jacket, brown suede shoes, and worst of all, a black shirt. Only priests and fascists wore black shirts. And gangsters, of course.

“Do you want to change?” I resisted the urge to tidy his hair, which was long enough to pull back with a rubber band. “Shave perhaps?” According to his agent, M. Rodierre was a guest at the hotel, so his razor sat just a few stories overhead.

“This is what I wear,” he said with a shrug. Typical actor. Why hadn’t I known better? The parade of guests en route to the ballroom was growing, the women stunning in their finery, every man in tails and patent leather oxfords or calf opera pumps.

“This is my first gala,” I said. “The consulate’s one night to raise money. It’s white tie.” Would he fit into Father’s old tux? The inseam would be right, but it would be much too tight in the shoulders.

“Are you always this, well, energized, Miss Ferriday?”

“Well, here in New York, individuality is not always appreciated.” I handed him the stapled sheets. “I’m sure you’re eager to see the script.”

He handed it back. “No, merci.”

I pushed it back into his hands. “But the consul general himself wrote it.”

“Tell me again why I’m doing this?”

“It’s to benefit displaced French citizens all year and my French Families Fund. We help orphans back in France whose parents have been lost for any number of reasons. With all the uncertainty abroad, we’re one reliable source of clothes and food. Plus, the Rockefellers will be there tonight.”

He paged through the speech. “They could write a check and avoid this whole thing.”

“They’re among our kindest donors, but please don’t refer to them. Or President Roosevelt. Or the planes the U.S. sold France. Some of our guests tonight love France, of course, but would rather stay out of a war for now. Roger wants to avoid controversy.”

“Dancing around things never feels authentic. The audience feels that.”

“Can you just stick to the script, Monsieur?”

“Worrying can lead to heart failure, Miss Ferriday.”

I pulled the pin from the lily of the valley. “Here—a boutonnière for the guest of honor.”

“Muguet?” M. Rodierre said. “Where did you find that this time of year?”

“You can get anything in New York. Our florist forces it from pips.”

I rested my palm against his lapel and dug the pin deep into the French velvet. Was that lovely fragrance from him or the flowers? Why didn’t American men smell like this, of tuberose and wood musk and—

“You know lily of the valley is poisonous, right?” M. Rodierre said.

“So don’t eat it. At least not until you’ve finished speaking. Or if the crowd turns on you.”

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Meet the Author

Martha Hall Kelly is a native New Englander now living in Atlanta, Georgia, where she’s writing the prequel to Lilac Girls. This is her first novel.

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Lilac Girls 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
[ I received this book free from the publisher through NetGalley. I thank them for their generousity. In exchange, I was simply asked to write an honest review, and post it. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising] “But it’s fitting in a way— Father loved the fact that a lilac only blooms after a harsh winter" This is a powerful historical fiction with roots deep in fact. We meet four women: Caroline Ferriday and Herta Oberheuser, both real people, and two sisters Kasia Kuzmerick and her sister Zuzanna, loosely based on Nina Iwanska and her physician sister Krystyna, both operated on at Ravensbruck, the only womens' camp during WW2. ( paraphrased from Author's acknowledgments at the end of the book) Ferriday was a former Broadway actress who worked at helping and saving French children until she found out about the true atrocities of the camps. She then spent the rest of her life helping the survivors. Herta Oberheuser was a female doctor who ran the sulfa operation experiments at the camp, and Kasia and Zuzanna, based on real people as noted above, were two of her "patients". I have visited Sachsenhausen and read enough about the camps not to go into the atrocities, as that part is fairly well documented in other places. What fascinated me in this book is how seamlessly the author has woven fact and fiction into a story that kept me up reading most of a night, both horrified and edified, as well as thankful that there were such brave souls during a time in history we'd rather forget. This is a WONDERFUL book. I strongly recommend it.
Anonymous 11 months ago
I really enjoyed this book. If you enjoyed Nightingale and All the Light We Cannot See, both of which I constantly recommend to people, you will love this book. Buy it.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Only negative was when it ended! Written well enough to keep up with each characters story without confusion. Loved it!!
Anonymous 9 months ago
I loved this book. I did not know this story, but people should. Such compelling characters, with such strong will. The author has a keen way of writing the story. Praise for Lilac Girls.
ScotsLass 4 days ago
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly How do you write a review for a book that keeps you thinking about it days after you’ve finished it? You keep on talking about it and recommending it to everyone you meet. This is what has its been like since I finished Lilac Girls. It’s a tough read at times but well worth sticking through. Caroline Ferriday is a New York socialite who works for the French Consulate. She has every advantage, social standing, home, food, and money. Yet her life is forever changed as Hitler invades Poland and France. Kasia Kuzmerick is a young idealistic Polish teenager who becomes a courier for the resistance and becomes a victim in a Nazi concentration camp along with her family and friends. She becomes one of Ravensbrück Rabbits. Herta Oberheuser is a young German doctor who answers an ad for a medical position she thinks will advance her career at a “re education camp”. Once there she finds herself in a secret Nazi concentration camp and required to perform horrific experiments on the prisoners. These three stories collide in an incredible story of human survival, tragedy, triumph, forgiveness and love. The story is so well researched and the characters so well developed that in some way you feel their fear, cold, hunger, hate, and love. The story is based on the lives of two actual people, Caroline Ferriday and Herta Oberheuser; the character of Kasia is compiled from information gathered by the author about the Ravensbrück Rabbits. The author makes these individuals and this time in history come alive. To say I enjoyed reading this book would be to somehow take the visceral punch out of it. It is a story that needed to be written and needs to be read. Uncomfortable and disturbing as the story is, if we do not learn from the past we are destined to continue to make the same mistakes. If we think that these horrible things happen only in the past, we will fail to see how they continue to happen in the present within other countries. This book should be among the required books to read in world history. This is an incredible book.
Yourekiddingme 16 days ago
The best book I've read this year!
Anonymous 26 days ago
I can't put this book down. Amazing. Hard to read at times but something that should be read.... A must read!
Anonymous 3 months ago
This has to be one of the best books I've ever read. I was hooked in the first few pages. Ive reccomended it to everyone I could think of.
Anonymous 4 months ago
Anonymous 5 months ago
An historical time and experience better depicted in Nightingale and other works. I did appreciate the specific story of the camp the girls were held in....wasn't aware of this particular camp. Adding a fictionalized romance for one of the Lilac girls was a mistake and tedious in the telling.
BettyTaylor 5 months ago
“The Lilac Girls” by Martha Hall Kelly (5 stars) What an amazing story! And I did not realize that the book was based on actual events. Only when I read the Author’s Notes at the back of the book did I learn this. What courage and determination these women had! The story begins in 1939 and follows three young ladies to 1959. Caroline Ferriday (real person) is a New York socialite, former actress. Now she is working at the French Consulate in New York. When Hitler invades France her life is turned upside down. She works to try to get visiting Frenchmen back home to France and to try to get visas for those needing to flee from France. Then there is Kasia, a Polish teenager, who begins working with the Resistance. She gets captured along with her sister and mother and all are sent to Ravensbrὒck, a concentration camp for women who are political prisoners. The third is Gerta Oberheuser, a young German doctor who is assigned to Ravensbrὒck. Kasia is one of the “rabbits” that Gerta experiments on in the camp. This is a wonderful story of female friendships and the ability to blossom after the harshest of times. It is very well written with alternating chapters telling the story from each of the three protagonists’ viewpoints. The author even has “cliff hangers” at the end of some of the chapters. I admit that I often skipped ahead to that character’s next chapter and read just the first paragraph – I just couldn’t wait! I received this book from the publishers’ via LibraryThing for an honest review.
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DGeb 6 months ago
This book was a fabulous read. The only bad thing was when the book ended. Would highly recommend this book.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Anonymous 7 months ago
Highly recommended! Based on actual events and people during World War II, this novel is one of the best historical fiction books I have read. The novel tells the experiences with three main characters: a German doctor, a Polish young girl, and an American socialite. The novel includes: horrible operations, a tragic love story, loving sisters, charity, a French actor, cruel Nazis, dedicated Polish underground spies, nurses, and more. This well written book keeps you on the edge of your reading chair with each chapter focusing on one character and leaving you wondering and quessing as it goes to the next one. This is an excellent novel. The book deserves an A+++++
FortheloveofCasper 8 months ago
I loved this book. Read the other positive reviews. They're spot on. This story will stay with you forever.
Anonymous 9 months ago
Badly written: cliches, lack of character development and lack of scene development. Just words on a page.
SUEHAV 10 months ago
Way better than The Nightingale !!!
DeborahMO 12 months ago
Purchased as a Nookbook. Can't say enough good things about this book !! I thoroughly enjoyed it.
JCgirl More than 1 year ago
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.
KrisAnderson_TAR More than 1 year ago
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is a historical novel set during World War II. We get to see how the lives of three women in three different countries are affected by the war. Caroline Ferriday in New York City, Kasia Kuzmerick in Lublin, Poland, and Dr. Herta Oberheuser in Germany. This war will forever change their lives (if they make it alive to the end). Each one will experience the war differently. Come see how these three woman survive the war and what happens to them afterward. Lilac Girls is a long novel with some extreme details. This book is not for the faint of heart. There are many gruesome details about what happens at Ravensbruck (originally listed as rehabilitation camp for women). Ravensbruck was actually a concentration camp. Many women were experimented on at this camp by the doctors. These women became known as The Rabbits. It is very hard to read the details in this book. Lilac Girls contains good writing and interesting characters. The book starts out slow (making it hard to get into), but it does get much better. It is also confusing at first because it starts with Caroline (a New York socialite who devotes her time to the French Consulate), then goes to Kasia, then Herta. It then starts over again. The majority of the book is devoted to the what happens to the characters during the war and then the last section to how the war affects the rest of these women’s lives. I give Lilac Girls 3.75 out of 5 stars. This novel will stick with you long after you finish it (because of the details). The book is based on real people and incidents. I received a complimentary copy of Lilac Girls from the publisher in exchange for an honest review of the novel.
JeanK More than 1 year ago
I would like to thank NetGalley for an advance copy of this book for review. There are some books that are destined to stay with the reader long after they are read. The Lilac Girls is one of them. Martha Hall Kelly's story is one of love, strength and resilience in the face of the horrors of war. Caroline Ferriday works at the French consulate helping arriving immigrants just prior to WWII. Her world is one of charity events and sending aid to the orphans of France. Huerta Oberheuser is a young German who dreams of being a surgeon, but is relegated to treating rashes in a dermatology department after graduating from medical school. With no advancement in sight, she applies for a posting to a women's re-education center - Ravensbruck. Kasia Kuzmerick is a Polish teenager who wants to do her part against the Germans, which results in her being sent to Ravensbruck with her mother and sister. There she becomes one of the Ravensbruck Rabbits, a name given to the women subjected to experimental surgery that forced them to "hop" across the compound on their damaged legs. Kelly based her book on the lives of Caroline Ferriday and Herta Oberheuser, while Kasia was based on one of the Rabbits and imbued with the traits that allowed the Rabbits to survive. From the late 1930s through the 1950s, this is a fascinating look at a group of women that deserved to have their stories told. It is a book that I would highly recommend.