Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is a historical fiction novel that follows the stories from the perspectives of three different women and their experiences during World War II. The first woman we meet is Caroline Ferriday, an ex-Broadway actress working for the French consulate to get donations to orphanages in Paris. We follow her through her on-and-off relationship with fellow Broadway actor and walk along side her as she eventually ends up crossing paths with survivors who were once held at the notorious all-women's Nazi concentration camp, Ravensbrück.
Kasia, is a young teen living in Poland when her country is invaded by Hilter and his Nazi regime. One tragic day, Kasia is taken prisoner in Poland and finds herself on a train bound for Fürstenberg, Germany to be detained at Ravensbrück. We follow Kasia through the horrors of the camp, while constantly asking ourselves just how much can the human body and spirit endure.
Herta, is a young German woman training to be a doctor. While she aspires to be a surgeon, opportunities for women to train under Hitler's rule are limited and Herta finds herself frustrated. When she answers a newspaper ad looking for doctors to provide medical care to prisoners at a work and rehabilitation camp, Herta finds herself at Ravensbrück. Once hoping to help heal people, Herta is surprised by the role she finds herself playing at the camp under strict Nazi orders.
The women's lives intersect in this story told over the span of almost thirty years, detailing the horrors of the war and following each woman's story as they do what they each believe is right.
When I first started this book I had a really hard time getting through the first couple of pages and submersing myself in this world. I had been wanting to read this book for a long time but I just couldn't get my head into the right space. I put down my hardcopy of the book and started with the audiobook version and was instantly transported. For fans of audiobooks, the narration is spectacular and takes you across the globe, following the women. Once I was hooked after listening, I had a hard time putting this book down. I was so drawn to this fresh perspective told from each woman's point of view. I appreciated being able to think about WWII from two starkly different perspectives as I gained some insight into how people were able to so easily be persuaded into committing atrocities against humanity.
Parts of this book are definitely tough to get through, especially if you don't read a lot of WWII material. Many times I found myself with that deep uncomfortable knot in my stomach that made me nauseous on end. It would be unnatural to read about these kinds of horrors and not have any type of visceral reaction. I urge you to keep going, read every word and feel every bit of their pain. That small amount of discomfort for me was in no way measurable to the amount of pain these women experienced and we must do their stories justice by continuing to read and continuing to remember.
Fans of WWII and historical fiction will love this novel and the perspective it brings. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a powerful read.
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