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Lilac Girls: A Novel Paperback – February 28, 2017
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“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
About 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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By far, that would be Kasia, spunky Polish teenager, who wants to be part of fighting the Germans and is caught up in the Polish underground. Before long, her boyfriend, sister and mother are all arrested and sent to a women's concentration camp for "re-education", a place where Nazi doctors performed unsavory operations on human subjects. This story reminds us all of the horror of Nazi Germany, of the huge numbers of people they killed, of all nationalities and backgrounds, and of the madness that Hitler was able to convince so many people to believe. Kasia throughout the story is brave, tough, but not entirely unbroken.
Finally, the most gut-wrenching parts of the story involve Herta, a Nazi doctor that somehow convinces herself that she is doing the right thing, the patriotic thing. It was so sickening to read that sometimes I had to put the book down and look away, as much as Kasia's sections sucked me in and kept me turning pages. She's an anti-heroine, but it's still important to understand her story, and what drove her - and she is a key part of the total story that is told. Don't worry - she doesn't get away with it and you never truly sympathise with her.
The book was well-written and apparently well-researched judging by the notes. The author was a former journalist and that shows the mark of it, and yet, it reads as fiction even though many of the characters were real people of that time period.
I highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially to those who like books like "The Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah or "Sara's Key" by Tatiana de Rosnay. Perfect for book clubs. There is so much in this book that would lend itself to great discussions. If I were you, I would pre-order this book.
Catherine, a New York socialite, who has dedicated her life to service and charity, supported by her mother but not always by her peers or so-called friends who have more frivolous pursuits in mind. Kassia, a Polish teenager who has a crush on her best friend, and aspires to be a part of the underground resistance but is quickly caught and ends up in a most horrifying concentration camp. Herta, a German girl who has a medical degree, but as a woman will never be treated as a doctor or equal by her colleagues, but still buys into the Nazi propaganda and uses it to justify her actions.
This was definitely not a light read and clearly the author did her homework. There are tons of great reviews for this book and I do not regret reading it. However, I did have some issues with it and I’d like to address those. These issues should not really keep a reader from reading the book. They were just personal observances. Due to unforeseen circumstances in my personal life, I read this book in one day starting at 7 AM and finishing at 11:30 PM. As such, I found the book a longer read than it needed to be. There were several spots that could have been edited out and the story would have been just as complete and compelling. A good editor needed to scrap some things, for example, what was the point of Kassia coming upon Nadia at the concentration camp? Maybe there was a subtle point but it could have been left out. More is not better.
Unlike some others, I quite enjoyed the relationship/friendship between Catherine and Paul until the point she started ignoring his letters. Then she ignored more of his letters, then she ignored even more of his letters but he kept writing. This started to get a little tedious and at this point I felt like she was acting a little childish and a little too much like the romance novel heroines that I eschew, which compels me at this point to say that for the most part, the heroines in this novel are all very strong females with a lot to admire, something that is sadly lacking in a lot of the books that I read.
Herta, what can I say about this character, who is actually based on a real person as well (Catherine was also a real person). My problem with the portrayal of Herta in the book is that I felt like it was misleading. I went into this book without any forewarning of the fact that two of these women were real people in history and the third was based on an amalgamation of certain women as well. Based on the first three chapters, each told from the point of view of one of these three women, I thought I was going to be reading the rest of the story in the same manner, told from three different perspectives that probably would join or merge at some point. I was wrong.
I felt quite a kinship with Herta in the beginning, with her struggles in her family and her struggles to be taken seriously as a woman in her career, and I even overlooked her “drinking the Nazi kool-aid”, so to speak, since I definitely understand being influenced/fed extreme ideas at such a young age. That kind of hatred is taught or learned but some of us grow to be adults and realize that it’s not the only way and vastly change our opinions as we actually experience more of the world around us. I kept waiting for Herta to understand until suddenly I didn’t.
There was suddenly a big gap in the narrative and the chapters no longer switched back and forth between the three women. There would be two chapters for Kassia and two chapters for Catherine, back and forth but nothing for Herta. At first, I was relieved to realize that the author was not going to force Herta’s point of view on me any longer, but as I started getting closer to the end of the story, I started to feel like that was a cop out. If the author was going to commit to telling Herta’s point of view, that this story was supposed to be from the point of view of three different women, then she should have continued in that vein even if it was off-putting. I felt like I missed a huge part of the story and a huge part of what motivated one of the main characters.
In the end, I felt like I was sold on a book from three points of view but I only received two.
Note for triggers: While I do not remember any foul language in this book, I would note a trigger for rape. There is a dubious consent scene earlier in the book as well as an incestuous rape scene. Since this is a book about a female in a terror of a concentration camp in WWII, I think it could go without saying that there is quite a bit of violence, death, gore and other atrocities mentioned but I will say it. They are not gratuitous scenes for the sake of themselves, only presented in a manner to make the reader understand the level of terror this situation instilled, and in my opinion, necessary to the telling of the story.
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