Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

This Post Contains Spoilers

“A lilac only blossoms after a harsh winter”… 

Lilac Girls is one of the most beautiful, yet deeply horrific books I have ever read. I was in a strange middle ground of wanting to throw the book as far as possible, yet I wanted to stay up all night reading the next chapter. Martha Hall Kelly tells the story of three incredibly different women caught in WWII; each woman in a different country with a different background and view of the war and how it would change her life. 

Caroline, based of the real Caroline Ferriday, is a former Broadway actress who works as a liaison to the French consulate while navigating her increasingly complicated love affair with French celebrity Paul Rodierre, who pushes her further into the war. Kasia, a proud Polish teenager, is captured along with the rest of her family and brought to Ravensbrück, one of Hitlers only Nazi concentration camps for women. And then finally, Herta, a German female doctor trying to make a name for herself in a male dominated profession.

The ending was deeply satisfying. I notice that in books where the plot is so heavy with tragedy, the author usually brushes everything under the rug and gives the reader a sort of cop out happy ending or at least some vague sense of hope, leaving the reader deeply unsatisfied. This was not the case with Lilac Girls. Kelly made sure to close out her novel by wrapping up each character’s story, giving them closure, and assuring the readers that the three women got the ending they each deserved.

It would be impossible to discuss my feelings about this book without giving anything away, so spoilers are ahead, you’ve been warned. [ I found it very hard to read Herta’s chapters. I know that she is based off of the real Herta Oberheuser, the only female tried at the Nuremberg Trails, so the author could only sway her characterization so much. She was a horrid person to read about. The way that she justified her torture on the polish women at Ravensbrück as a way to get ahead in her career sickened me and I had no sympathy for her during the Nuremberg chapter. Imagine my shock and revulsion at finding out she only served five of the twenty years she was sentenced to and that she became a family doctor after her time in prison! Kasia’s chapters broke my heart over and over again as I read about each loved one’s death she witnessed and how time and time again she was denied her revenge and her feelings about Ravensbrück was brushed to the side until the final chapter.

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