Martha Kelly’s Lilac Girls Book Review

No matter, how many movies we see, how many books we read on Holocaust it is never enough. I have read articles, saw documentaries on World War 2, which was already depressing. Then one day while looking for books on Goodreads, I came across Lilac Girls, and the moment I read its summary I knew it might the one book which will be like an eye-opener on Holocaust. The real-life story is surrounded around two main characters and the other main character inspired by a survivor of Holocaust is a must-read. So I’m going to present my honest Lilac Girls Book Review.

Lilac Girls Book Review

Suggested Read – Donna Tart’s The Goldfinch Book Review.

Martha Kelly’s Lilac Girls Book Review

THE PLOT

The story revolves around three main characters – *Caroline Ferriday*, *Herta Oberhauser*, and *Kasia Kuzmerick*. During & after World War 2, how the lives of these crosses path and changes direction for all is the crux of the story. Caroline coming from a wealthy background is a former Broadway actress who chose to volunteer at the French Consulate in NYC. Herta Oberhauser is a surgery student before the war and aspires to become a surgeon in the male-dominated Nazi world during the war. Lastly, there’s Kasia, a polish patriotic teenager whose life changes when Germany invaded Poland and she decides to work underground for a dream of a free country. Working for the underground, Kasia, unfortunately, gets caught and along with her mother & sister lands in the horrific Ravensbruck – the largest concentration camp for women located 50 miles of Berlin. 

*Ravensbruck* formally called as ”re-education” camp but in reality was a hideous place where women, prisoners were ill-treated to the level that most of these women give up and die of inhumane living conditions. Initially assumed to be built for 7000 prisoners, Ravensbruck later accommodated more than 50000 people. The living conditions deteriorated as the war progressed, limited food supplies, unhygienic conditions causing outspread of diseases and limited warm clothes available to bear with cold were some of many nauseating things there.

THE CHARACTERS

*Kasia* the main protagonist was one of the ‘rabbits‘ in the camp, only a few of the survivors of these deadly experiments. One of the major highlights of the camp was around ‘rabbits‘ which were the people who got operated illegally in the camp, some were injected with sulphuric substances in the well-known gas chambers and some got bone transplantation.  How Kasia & her sister got operated, their survival, ever-growing affection was one of the many best parts of the book. How Kasia remains positive and wanted to spread the word about these to the outer world was put in an intriguing manner. Although Kasia was a inspired character, but Martha brought life to Kasia and my feeling grew more & more as every chapter progressed. 

*Herta* was the one who performed these experiments on Polish prisoners with the ambition of only female doctor in the camp and moving up the career ladder. Herta did resist initially how the male doctors in the camp gave injections to the prisoners for them to die on the pretext of an easy death. Despite here initial defiance, she went ahead with her career in Ravensbruck and ultimately became one of the lead doctors who performed these treatments. There were moments when I got little sympathetic with Herta when she was puzzled with her decision to continue her job. How she wanted to quit it and go home but couldn’t because of her father’s death and family’s financial needs was congenial. Don’t take me wrong, I’m not on Herta’s side, but I think Martha put Herta’s perception well enough that we might feel sympathetic with her a little bit.

*Caroline* was truly the hero in every sense, her non-paying job at the French consulate and still continuing the zeal to help French orphans in the long period of 6 years. Postwar also, she continued her support to the ‘rabbits‘, their treatment in the US, and also fighting for justice. How she continued to play a mother figure to Kasia & her sister and the rest of the ‘rabbits‘. It is actually saddening to refer these people as ‘rabbits’ as if they don’t exist but the truth is far more gruesome. 

My Take

How the stories take a turn in the events of War and these characters collide with each other slowly is written in a phenomenal manner. Martha has done an extensive research and put the story in an overwhelming manner that it is difficult to put the book down. Yes, it is a depressing story but a must-read not only for historical-fiction lovers but for all.

                             Lilac Girls was a *5-star* read for me. 

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– The Wanderer

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35 thoughts

  1. So many stories recently coming to light about the Holocaust, and this sounds like a really hard hitting, and really interesting one. It gives you chills to think of the conditions in the prison and that human beings were experimented on. The character development in the book sounds like it’s very meaningful and in depth, I will add it to my reading list.

  2. Documentaries on the holocaust always make me cry. Maybe books are better? I absolutely loved Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I highly recommend it to everyone. Not fiction, but Frankl was a survivor of the holocaust. It’s a really great read as well.

  3. Sounds like a really sad story but a great book to read. Thank you so much for sharing. So important to read about History and how certain people were treated.

  4. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction so I’ll definitely give this book a read. I particularly like that the main characters are all women. So much WW2 stuff focuses on the actual combat and invasions. It’s great to see the perspective of women living during this time period.

  5. Thanks for this review. This sounds like an interesting book. When I was in DC I visited the Holocaust museum. It made me so sad, but I think it’s a place everyone should visit.

  6. Sounds like a very interesting read, when one look at the stage the world is in now it might return sooner than we think. It is difficult not to get emotional when you read and even visit the actual museum in Israel.

  7. This sounds like a very interesting book despite the sad events that occurred. I’ll add it to my queue of books to read in order not to forget to read it.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  8. Thank you for the recommendation. We might read it on the road. I think that the subject of the 2nd world war is more relevant now than ever.

    1. I really hope you like the book.
      Agreed, the relevance of WW2 is not only ever lasting but it also comes up like a storm every few years and now we’re sadly living in a tricky world situation.

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