Monday, October 24, 2016

Lilac Girls - Martha Hall Kelly

Summary: Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this debut novel reveals a story of love, redemption, and 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. (Summary and pic from goodreads.com)

My Review:  I can’t remember if I knew this book was about Ravensbruck when I first put it on hold at the library, but I have to admit that I’ve certainly read a lot of Ravensbruck historical fiction books lately. Check out my reviews of Rose Under Fire and Ravensbruck: Everyday Life in a Women's Concentration Camp for some of my favorites. I’m not sure if it’s because there are a lot of them coming out right now and it’s a hot topic (probably), or if I seek them out (not consciously), but this is another one of those heartbreaking historical fics about Ravensbruck and the horrors that took place there.

Lilac Girls is written in the rotating perspective of the three main characters. These characters are not connected until the end of the book, and although I usually really enjoy this kind of organization, in this case, it was actually kind of confusing at times. There were a lot of different people in each woman’s life (not surprisingly, of course) but because of that it was sometimes hard to keep track of whose friend was whose and what had happened. Usually this seems to work out better than it did in this book. I don’t find myself as confused in other books that are written this way, so I’m not sure why this one was different, but I suspect it’s because although the author started out with the women being very different and having different opinions, their actual voices in the writing weren’t that different. This wasn’t true all of the time, of course, and there were very significant things going on in each of the character’s lives that would direct me to exactly what was going on, it was just more confusing than some books written this way are to me.

The stories in this book were really interesting. When I found out (after reading it) that they were based (some loosely) on real people in history, that made it even more interesting. I didn’t know that when I was reading it and I think that would have been even more interesting, although I really enjoyed it at face value. It being based on true stories was just that much better.

If you’ve ever read any Ravensbruck historical fic (or memoirs or anything about Ravensbruck), you know that it’s exceptionally heartbreaking. The almost exclusively women’s concentration camp was particularly harsh, especially considering the experiments that were done on the women known as the “rabbits.” It’s really quite horrifying. This book doesn’t dance around those topics, and there is much war-based horror that goes on, some of it detailed. I wouldn’t say it’s gratuitous or unnecessarily grotesque, but it is descriptive and by its very nature is horrible. Really. As I mentioned above, I’ve read quite a bit about Ravensbruck and all of that didn’t make reading this book any easier.

Fundamentally, this book has a really good story and some really great characters, especially because they were based on real historical women. If you’re into reading the plethora of WWII historical fiction that is out there right now, this would be a great one to check out. It’s certainly in the top tier of those books, and that is saying something as there are a lot of them.

My Rating: 4 stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and the horror of WWII and the concentration camps are fully explored in this book. 

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