Lilac Girls: A Novel
“Lilac Girls,” by Martha Hall Kelly, follows the intersecting stories of Caroline Ferriday, Herta Oberhauser, and Kasia Kuzmerick in the years leading up to, during, and after World War II. Caroline is a New York socialite with a bent towards helping those less fortunate. Herta Oberhauser is a doctor in Germany who, after answering an employment ad, finds herself as one of the doctors performing experiments on inmates at the Ravensbruck concentration camp. Kasia Kuzmerick is a Polish teenager who helps the resistance until she finds herself swept up by the Nazis and taken to Ravensbruck.
The story is raw and disturbing and compelling and fascinating. What makes it more so is the fact that Caroline Ferriday and Herta Oberhauser were real people. Although this is a fictionalized version of their lives, it is based on letters and the historical record. Kasia is a composite character based on the author’s interviews with Ravensbruck survivors.
Kelly does not shy away from or diminish the horror of the camps. Herta’s story, to me, was the most disturbing, because it highlighted how easy it is to make an otherwise good person do horrible things. Somehow, her cruelty was more disturbing to me than Kasia’s suffering at her hands.
It’s a story about hope and horror, the way we can compartmentalize even the more horrible things, survivor’s guilt, grief, and the various forms of love and suffering. There is so much to this story. It will haunt you for quite a while after you’ve finished.
Although the facts are the stuff of psychological horror stories, Kelly’s deft writing ensures that the story is never maudlin or overly dramatic. It simply is, making it that much more heartbreaking and brutal. I had trouble putting this book down. Despite the fact that it is slightly over 500 pages, the pages turn quickly and I read it in about three days. My husband did the same.
My only ‘real’ criticism is the name and the cover. Although there is meaning behind the title “Lilac Girls” and the picture on the cover, I would not have picked up the book had it not been recommended to me. The name and image make the book seem very soft and like typical “chick lit.” Nothing could be further than the truth. Instead, we have three strong female protagonists, each with her own personality and weaknesses, in a story more frightening than anything Stephen King could dream up – because it is real and it really happened.
A must read book of 2017.
To read more, check out the handy-dandy Amazon link below.Lila