Series: Lilac Girls #1
By Martha Hall Kelly
Lilac Girls tell the story of three women from totally different backgrounds, and their time during and after World War II.
First there’s Herta Oberheuser, a German doctor at Ravensbrück, the only all-female Nazi-run concentration camp. Herta originally went to Ravensbrück (advertised as a “reeducation camp”) to help support her family. Initially, she struggled with what was really going on at camp, but stayed on and became one of the camp’s top doctors.
In contrast, Kasia is a Polish girl who plays a minor role in Poland’s underground during Nazi occupation. She is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück. There, she and her family do their best to survive and watch out for one another. Kasia and her sister eventually become one of the infamous “Rabbits,” a group of women who undergo Nazi medical experiments.
Finally, there’s Caroline Ferriday, a former American actress who spends most of her time volunteering at the French Consulate in New York and engaged in philanthropic causes, particularly helping French orphans and later, the Polish “Rabbits.” Caroline’s WWII experience is vastly different than Herta and Kasia, as she experiences the war from afar. That being said, she lives the worry and uncertainty of the war, doing all she can to help not only those that she cares for but others that are suffering from the cruelties of WWII.
Review/Recommendation: Let’s get the order piece out of the way, shall we? Even though Lilac Girls was published before Lost Roses and is technically the first book in the series, I read it second. In truth, I don’t think it matters which order you read them in. Lilac Girls takes place, chronologically, after Lost Roses, which was nice because I knew a bit more about Caroline (and her mother) and what made her into the woman we see in Lilac Girls. But even after reflecting quite a bit, the two books could easily be read as standalone and not lose anything. (Read my review of Lost Roses here.)
The characters of Herta, Kasia, and Caroline were all based on real figures of the time. Knowing that, in my opinion, makes the story even more powerful. All three women were strong characters. I won’t say all were equally likable, but they were all strong women and their lives were entwined, despite their very different backgrounds – two things that this novel had in common with Lost Roses.
In terms of the story, Lilac Girls was pretty stellar. Like many historical fiction novels, there were parts that were a bit hard to read, but that’s part of our history. Lilac Girls was well written and engaging, and for the most part, hard to put down. While a work of historical fiction, so much of the characters and plot was based on history, which made me feel like I got a real glimpse into our past, however ugly it was.
Like Lost Roses, Lilac Girls is a must read for those that enjoy fiction and historical fiction novels, but also one for those that enjoy strong female protagonists.