Sunday, 27 March 2016

Review: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this powerful debut novel reveals an incredible story of love, redemption, and terrible secrets that were hidden for decades.
On the eve of a fateful war, 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 sinks deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspect neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.

For ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. But, once hired, 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 Ravensbr├╝ck, the notorious female-only Nazi concentration camp. The tragedy and triumph of their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, and Germany to Poland—capturing the indomitable pull of compassion to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.

In Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly has crafted a remarkable novel of unsung women and their quest for love, happiness, and second chances. It is a story that will keep readers bonded with the characters, searching for the truth, until the final pages.

Kindle Edition, 496 pages
Expected publication: April 5th 2016 by Ballantine Books 
Genre: Historical Fiction

Kristine's Thoughts:

** I received an advanced readers copy from Ballantine Books via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!**

Historical fiction is a genre that I tend to really enjoy and often love, particularly stories surrounding WWI or WWII. Needless to say, my excitement and expectations for this book were both very high. The fact that it was inspired by real people and events of WWII had me really curious and anxious to turn the pages.

This book followed three very different women from three very different areas before, during and after WWII. There was Caroline Ferriday from America (the authors inspiration for the story), Kasia Kuzmerick from Poland (based on Nina Ivanska) and Dr. Herta Oberheuser from Germany. Each was affected quite differently by the events of that time and led very different roles but they all intersected in this sweeping story that centred around Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, the only all female camp of that time.

I won't re-tell the story because I could never do it justice. It really needs to be read to be appreciated. What I can say is that I have read hundreds (no exaggeration) of books about WWII covering just about every angle imaginable yet this book still provided me with something new or different from the other books. What I really liked about this book is that it was written in a simplistic manner that made it easy to understand the events that were happening. Some historical fiction books are written with language and terminology that is so difficult, if English is your only language, that the story gets lost in the writing. That was not the case with Lilac Girls. It flowed with an ease that made for pleasurable reading.

There were multiple points of view within the pages. Caroline, Herta and Kasia all had a voice. Each one of them played major roles in the plot and each one had me glued to the pages. I adored Caroline and Kasia and as much as I hated Herta, I found her voice was still extremely interesting in a horrified kind of way. The entire story and all three women would make for amazing book club discussions and I think a lot of time could be spent on Herta and her role in the Ravensbruck experiments.

The writing may have been easy but this book was not an easy book to read. The events that occurred were both shocking, tragic and unimaginable. The treatment and experiments of the woman that were housed at Ravensbruck was hard to swallow and often difficult to read. Having said that, I do feel it is important to know this part of our history so that nothing like that ever happens again.

Through the sadness, loss and horror there was a small shining light in spite of the events that occurred. There was a strong sense of sisterhood and camaraderie between the prisoners of Ravensbruck. The support they had for each other was ever present and I'm sure also aided in keeping a lot of them alive and going.

Lilac Girls was everything I was hoping it would be and I loved every minute of it. I'm not sure if that is the proper thing to say about a book that it filled with such horrors but it fed my hunger for knowledge and my interest in WWII. I would highly recommend this book for fans of the genre and also think that it would be a great introduction for new readers of the genre for its easy flow and writing. I strongly recommend reading the authors notes at the end of the book and visiting her website to read about how this story came to be. It will show you the degree of research that went into this book and making it what it was. It is just as good as the book was in my opinion.

About the Author
Martha is a native New Englander but has become nomadic, splitting her time between New York City, Martha's Vineyard and Atlanta, Georgia. She worked as an advertising copywriter for many years and raised three splendid children, while researching Lilac Girls, her first novel. When Martha is not chasing after her new puppy she is hard at work on her next book.

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