One of my New Year's resolutions for 2019 is to read two books per month, 24 for the year. I'm a bit behind on sharing my reviews. I'm on book #15, but for today I want to talk about book #13, Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly.
The book was recommended to me by my best friend's mom. She knew I had a few summer trips coming up, and offered to lend me some of her favorites. The very first book she handed me off the pile was Lilac Girls.
I knew I was going to like it, because the book has one of the best opening lines I've ever read, "If I'd known I was about to meet the man who'd shatter me like bone china on terra-cotta, I would have slept in." I mean, you're hooked already, right?
The story begins in 1939 and is told from the perspectives of three different women - Kasia, Herta and Caroline. The chapters alternate between voices and I have to admit, it took me many, many pages to keep them straight!
Kasia is the younger of two sisters, living in Lublin, Poland. As World War II begins, she becomes part of the resistance movement, and is ultimately sent (along with her sister and mother) to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for women.
That is where she crosses paths with Herta, a young and ambitious doctor who answers an ad for a government medical position and finds herself on staff at Ravensbruck, being asked to do heinous things to the female prisoners.
Across the ocean in New York City is Caroline, a volunteer at the French consulate, desperately trying to send aid to the people of France throughout the war.
I don't want to give too much away, but Caroline's path eventually intersects with Kasia and Herta too, intertwining their stories in very emotional ways.
It had been a long time since I'd read a book set in World War II, or one that describes the inhumane, cruel and evil acts of the Holocaust. Though the subject matter was extremely heavy, and at times I could feel myself holding my breath, Martha Hall Kelly's writing is so beautiful and poignant that I wanted to keep going.
At the close of the book there is a detailed author's note that provides context around the three main characters. She writes, "Lilac Girls is based on a true story. Caroline Ferriday and Herta Oberheuser were real people, as were all the Ravensbruck staff mentioned . . . In bringing them to life as characters, I have done my best to represent them in the fairest, most realistic way possible . . . Kasia Kuzmerick and her sister Zusanna are based on Nina Iwanska and her physician sister Krystyna, both operated on at the camp . . . Having two beloved sisters of my own, five sisters-in-law, and two daughters whose sisterly bond I've watched blossom over twenty-six years, it was impossible to remain unmoved by Nina and Krystyna's story."
She goes on to share all the places she traveled to do research for the book, the archives unearthed, and the survivors interviewed. I was really glad all of that was included. It made me appreciate the story even more.
Tell me, have you read Lilac Girls? Or the prequel Lost Roses?