Book Review : Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

April 18, 2017 Book review 6 ★★★½

WW2 settings continue to call me in books. No matter how often I read books set in this emotionally charged period, a good one will horrify me all over again. Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is a perfect example of this.

Book Review : Lilac Girls by Martha Hall KellyLilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Published by Ballantine Books on April 5th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 487
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley

Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this debut novel reveals a story of love, redemption, and secrets that were hidden for decades. New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.   An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.   For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.   The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.

Historical Tear Jerker Well Written

First Line of Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

“If I’d known I was about to meet the man who’d shatter me like bone china on terracotta, I would have slept in.”

My Thoughts on Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

This book is told from 3 very diverse points of view

  • Caroline who lives in New York and volunteers at the French Consulate
  • Herta who is a German newly qualified doctor and ends up working at a concentration camp
  • Kasia, a polish teenager who is incarcerated in Ravensbruck, the notorious women’s concentration camp

Over the duration of the book, their lives become intertwined in horrible ways. The capability that some people have for inflicting terror and evil shocked me over and over as I read. I shuddered and cringed and wondered in awe at the resilience of the victims.

A large part of the books focuses on the medical experiments on prisoners known as ‘rabbits’. I first came across this in Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein (which I also highly recommend) but knowing what would happen didn’t dilute the horror.

There are lighter moments in the book though so it doesn’t constantly feel like a dark, depressing read. The friendship bonds between women, sisters, mothers and daughters all add a softer touch and some hope to the dark situation. I loved the little moments of rebellion, where the women at huge personal cost helped to hide the ‘rabbits’.

I also really appreciated that the book didn’t end when the war did. The suffering and post-traumatic shock is well covered and helps you fully appreciate just what a desperate plight this was for so many.

However while I enjoyed the book and engaged with all the characters (some with admiration and some with revulsion), I did find it was a little slow at time. Not in a detrimental way and I was never bored, I just wished some description had been cut. Despite this, I thoroughly ‘enjoyed’ the book, even if enjoyed is probably the wrong word. Appreciated is more like it.


Rating Report
Did I feel it?
Overall: three-half-stars

Who should read Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly?

This is a must-read for fans of WW2 settings, especially if you like character focused books. Fans of The Nightingale and Code Name Verity should also enjoy.

Thanks to Netgalley and Random House Publishing Group, Ballantine for giving me a copy of this book for review consideration.


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6 Responses to “Book Review : Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly”

  1. Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library

    This has been on my TBR because I liked the cover and the WW2 setting but I didn’t realize just how intense of a read it is. I definitely still plan on reading it but I’ll be a little more careful of when. This doesn’t sound like what I want to read on vacation! Great review and I’m so glad you mentioned that there are some light moments.
    Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday – Ten Things That Will Make Me Instantly Want to Read a Book

    • trish

      Exactly Katherine, it’s an intense read but if you are mentally prepared for that, then it’s a good read.

  2. Dawn obrien

    I really like the sound of this book, although the cover did put me off as I though it would be a bit light …should learn not to judge a book by its cover haha

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