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Lilac Girls #1

Lilac Girls

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For three women living through World War II, the threat of war poses very separate issues - that is, until their lives become intertwined in the most tragic of circumstances.

New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate. But the privileged life to which she is accustomed is turned upside down when her lover suddenly and suspiciously disappears.

An ocean away in Germany, indoctrinated young Herta Oberheuser is desperate to begin working as a doctor. She replies to an advert for a government medical position, yet only upon arrival does she discover the true extent of her horrifying new role.

As the war advances, Polish teenager Kasia Kuzmerick is drawn deeper into the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbours, one false move can have dire consequences.

Then the unthinkable happens: Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women where Herta now works, and her life is transformed into a desperate attempt to survive. As the women's stories coincide and span decades and continents - from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland - the devastation of Ravensbrück is ever-present, as Kasia and Caroline strive to bring justice to those history has forgotten.

502 pages, Paperback

First published April 5, 2016

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About the author

Martha Hall Kelly

11 books6,532 followers
Martha is still pinching herself after her debut novel LILAC GIRLS, about socialite Caroline Ferriday and her fight to help a group of concentration camp survivors, became an Instant NY Times bestseller in 2016 and went on to sell over two million copies. Once the paperback stayed on the NYT list for 54 weeks, and became published in fifty countries she wrote two more novels: LOST ROSES about Caroline's mother, and SUNFLOWER SISTERS about her great grandmother, which also became Instant NY Times bestsellers. Her latest novel, THE GOLDEN DOVES, which returns to WWII, arrives in bookstores April 18th, 2023. Martha grew up in Massachusetts and now splits her time between Connecticut and New York City. You'll find more info about the incredible, true stories behind all of her books at her website: http://www.marthahallkelly.com, on Instagram: @marthahakkkelly, Facebook.com/marthahallkelly, Twitter: @marthahallkelly and on her ever-changing Pinterest page.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 21,851 reviews
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,285 reviews2,205 followers
March 30, 2016
No matter how many books I read about the atrocities of the holocaust, the death camps , the concentration camps, I always feel that each of the stories must be told so it is not forgotten and no matter how difficult these stories are to read , we have to read them. In this novel the story of what happened at Ravensbruck, the concentration camp , infamous for the horrific medical experimentation on young Polish women is told from the perspectives of three women. It spans two decades from 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland through 1959. I have not read a lot about the aftermath of the war and what might have happened to survivors of the camps, and I found the coverage of that aspect here in the third part of the novel , to be a gripping depiction of strength and resilience of some of the survivors but also one of courage, and goodness and strength on the part of people who helped them.

Caroline Ferriday, a former actress , from a wealthy and generous family , volunteers at the French consulate in NYC is one of the narrators . Even though she works hard to provide care packages to French orphans and later is involved in more classified work , her part of the story at first seemed remote and separate from what was happening at Ravensbruck. But that was only at first. I had no idea until I read the author's note that Caroline Ferriday was a real person who not only worked tirelessly to help orphans in France during the war but continued to give of herself to help survivors of Ravensbruck in the years after the war. It is after the war that her story converges with the other narrators.

They are Kasia , an eighteen year old girl in Lublin , Poland who gets involved in the Resistance and is arrested with her sister and her mother and Dr. Herta Oberhauser from Düsseldorf , newly graduated surgeon, who applies for a job and goes to Ravensbruck, thrilled that she will finally practice in a world dominated by male Doctors. That is where Kasia Kuzmerick, her mother and her sister meet Herta - in this horrible place . It's difficult to read about - powerful and painful - just so disturbing to see what these sick minded Nazis do to these women . Yet amidst the horrible things things that Kasia and her sister and other women endure , there are moments of tenderness and care , reflections on mothers and daughters, friendships, love. It was not easy to see things through Herta's eyes , loyal to the Nazi cause and feeling that the experiments are justified. It is Kasia's story that took my heart and is the center of this story.

It was a camp for women only, called a "reeducation" camp but in reality , we know it was a place where women were subjected not only to the harsh conditions with little food , the imminent susceptibility of disease daily and both emotional and physical abuse but also to the atrocities of the barbaric medical experimentation . It was more than gruesome to read about . Yet we have to read it . While this is a fictional telling, it is based on the real Caroline Ferriday and the real Herta Oberheuser. Kasia and her sister are loosely based on two real sisters who survived Ravensbruck . Martha Hall Kelly has done extensive research in preparation for writing this and I highly recommend it . What an effort for a debut ! It has to be read.

Thank you to Random House Publishing Group - Ballantine and NetGalley.
Profile Image for Misfit.
1,637 reviews278 followers
February 8, 2016
This story is about three different women, two of whom were real-life characters according to the author's notes, the third (a prisoner at the all female prison camp Ravensbrück). Caroline Ferriday is the first narrator, Kasia (a young Polish girl) and finally the notorious Herta Oberheuser (don't read up on her experiments at meal time). The setting is mainly during the years of WWII, but the later third or so take place some years afterward.

Typically such a subject matter would have me gripped to the book and bawling my eyes out at the gross inhumanity of the experiments the women at the camp were forced to endure, but this just didn't grab me. I can't understand why a fascinating, albeit graphic, bit of history can be put into a novel that in the end became increasingly tedious. I don't know if it was the alternating third person narratives (admittedly not a method I'm terribly fond of), or just flat characters/characterization, but I just didn't care about any of them, not even Kasia and her fellow prisoners. Caroline's narrative went on and on about her pretty dresses, charities parties and all that name dropping, and then there's the romantic element with no chemistry. In the end, I just didn't care and began to skim, and it went on too long for before tying things up and moving on.

Sorry, but apparently I am in the minority and see this getting a lot of favorable reviews, but due to the slowness of the story reaching it's resolution, unlikeable characters (and really, Herta should have been a lot more unlikeable), and one too many social party and pretty dress for Caroline, I just can't rate this higher. YMMV.
Profile Image for Jessica J..
1,019 reviews1,958 followers
February 10, 2017
I'm so very clearly in the minority here, and I don't really feel like drawing the ire of the thousands of people who seem to have enjoyed this book so just let me say that the story was fine but I thought the writing was weak. The characters weren't developed and Kelly's use of the three-intertwined-narratives technique (Side note: I am sick to death of that technique) struck me as clumsy and ineffective.

Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,002 reviews36k followers
November 3, 2019
Ravensbruck was Hitler's only major concentration camp exclusively for women.
The story is centered around three women....each from 3 different countries: Poland, Germany, and, America. ---( before- during - and after World War II) ---all based on the lives of real women in history. There are actually several plots ... not sure any of them are minor. The storytelling is disturbing, gripping and written veraciously.

Caroline Ferriday's was a wealthy American woman who made it her life's work to help the female prisoners. She was a strong quiet woman...yet we felt her suffering ..her aching love for her family -and the women she was helping. Her dedication was endless...a leader who was ruthless and unreasonable -- she stood for justice and was going to make sure the world became aware of the horrors which took place.

Dr. Herta Oberheuser, from Germany, executed the most ghastly and torturous medical experimentation imaginable on these woman in the camps. Her purpose was for the women to conflict pain purposefully -- some crazy type of thinking these woman should be in agony as a type of counterbalance any distress the German soldiers endured.

Kasia Kuzmerick ...a Polish political prisoner, ( is the one fictional female character).
Dr Oberheuser forced her to assist and perform in the horrid medical experimentation

Martha Hall Kelly's story is emotional, heart wrenching, but not 'all' gloomy.
What stood out for me were the relationships - the real friendships --(women bonding), that developed ...creating the possibility for an optimistic way of being.
They shared experiences of unspeakable memories, and losses, too afraid to hope
alone... but when they confronted their challenges together ...we see a rich
portrayal of female friendship in the face of adversity.

Much pain ... much hardship...much truth!
The factual details of the novel are troubling - yet the storytelling is
persuasive, interesting ...and deeply moving.

The research from Martha Hall Kelly, is quite impressive. The authors notes at the end add a deeper understanding from her years her personal dedication of study.
By the time the reader gets to the end...we can't help but respect the integrity in which
Martha Kelly devoted to the historical facts. Powerful and extremely engrossing reading.

Thank You Random House, Netgalley, and Martha Hall Kelly,
Profile Image for MarilynW.
1,109 reviews2,791 followers
February 23, 2023
Lilac Girls (Lilac Girls #1) by Martha Hall Kelly (Author), Cassandra Campbell (Narrator), Kathleen Gati (Narrator), Kathrin Kana (Narrator)

This story is told from the viewpoint of three women. One of the women was the real life former actress, Caroline Woolsey Ferriday, an American philanthropist known for her efforts during World War II and throughout the rest of her life. While this story deals mostly with her work to help women who survived Nazi medical experiments at the Ravensbrück concentration camp, she also helped countless other people. I have such admiration for this woman and plan to learn more about her.
Another viewpoint is a fictional character, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish woman whose experiences are based on real life Nina Ivanska, who was one of the survivors of the Nazi medical experiments at the all women concentration camp. We follow Kasia for twenty years, as she and her family, friends, and country experience the horrors of wartime invaders, concentration camps, and extermination. Kasia is one of the "rabbits", women who were used for inhumane experiences by Nazi doctors at Ravensbruck. 

Then we see things from the viewpoint of real life Herta Oberheuser, the only Nazi woman doctor at Ravensbruck. She willingly conducted experiments on women prisoners at the Ravensbruck concentration camp along with being responsible for the deaths of many of those woman and others. Herta was a monster of the worst kind, an instrument of torture and death, of babies, children, and women of all ages. 

This audiobook was both upsetting and beautiful. It gives us stories of the people who fought atrocities from close up and far away. The strength of the people that had no hope left is amazing. The risks that people took to help others and to make sure that the world found out what was going on to millions of people is inspiring. And then there is horror of humans willingly treating other humans as trash to be eliminated. Babies, children, adults, and the elderly died by the millions, starved, tortured, worked to death, executed in the most inhumane ways. I appreciate getting to read these stories and this one has been told in a way that shines a light on the heroes of this time but also puts names on the beasts of this time.  

Published April 5, 2016 by Random House Audio
Profile Image for Crumb.
189 reviews526 followers
July 18, 2019
Emotional, Powerful, Brutal

This book will take your breath away.. it certainly stole mine. Some stories are unforgettable, no doubt that this one is among them. However, to leave it at that, is not adequate. No. This is different. Not only did I appreciate this novel, but it changed me. It shook me to the core and rocked the very foundation on which I stand.

If you haven't yet read this, you must. It is imperative that we never forget the extraordinary suffering and enormous loss that took place during the Holocaust. It is also something worth noting that one of the perspectives in Lilac Girls was from that of a Nazi doctor, Herta Oberhauser. I've never read any piece of literature that gives a voice to one of the most evil humans in mankind.

This was by no means an easy read, however, it is critical that we all never forget the inhumanity that was the Holocaust.
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
486 reviews1,356 followers
May 4, 2016
No matter how many holocaust stories I read, I still find them disturbing, shocking and heart wrenching. Surviving such a devastating experience brings with it a lifetime of horrors. For no one truly forgets and nor should we.

3 women from 3 different geographies as WWII erupts - Each doing what they can towards the war effort.
Caroline in NYC. Putting care packages together for orphaned children. Going one step further and helping rebuild the country. Falling in love with a foreigner who is forced to return to Nazi occupied France.

Kasia in Poland. The Nazis have invaded and she has been caught working for the underground movement. She's been sent to Ravensbrück and now is infamously known as one of the 'rabbits'. Even with liberation, the polish people were forced to live under communist rule with Stalin's iron fist -from one radical leader to another never experiencing freedom. The losses suffered and the pain endured would be enough to lose hope. But hope is all they had and gave them the strength to survive.

Herta in Germany. A medical doctor working at a concentration camp doing experimental surgeries on inmates. A doctor whose purpose is saving lives is practicing unethical surgeries and murder. Aka The rabbit surgeon. The nazi code so fundamentally f**ked up.

The structure of the narrative told from the 3 perspectives gives a global scope. I would have preferred locking onto one character, but overall this was beautifully written and an amazing story of character, courage, redemption and resilience. 5⭐️
Profile Image for *TANYA*.
1,002 reviews290 followers
March 4, 2017
I finished this book earlier in the day, and I've been pondering what to write for "my review" and I cannot put into words how much this book impacted me. It's books like this that make me appreciate how fortunate I am, for I know with great certainty that I could be nowhere as resilient. FANTASTIC BOOK!!!
Profile Image for PorshaJo.
453 reviews660 followers
March 23, 2017
I tend to gravitate to books on WWII and the holocaust, but I have never read a book about Ravensbrück, the Nazi concentration camp for women. I had never heard of the 'rabbits'. I was shocked by this book, not expecting it to be as good as it was.

The Lilac Girls tells the story of three *very* different women, whose lives eventually intersect. Caroline Ferriday, a socialite and former actress works for the French Consulate in NYC and she works tirelessly for children who have been impacted or displaced by the war. Kasia Kuzmerick, a young Polish girl who eventually is taken by the Germans to Ravensbrück, and is one of the rabbits. Finally, Herta Oberheuser, a young german doctor who is really striving to get herself noticed as a female doctor and shows her unwaivering support for the Reich. The story rotates in chapters between the points of view of each of these women. Telling their stories before, during, and after the war. The rabbits were a group of young, healthy, women who the germans performed ruthless, unnecessary operations on them, debilitating them for life, and sometimes just killing them outright. Herta is the doctor who performs those operations. She is such an evil person who shows no remorse for what she does as it's done for the good of Germany.

The story is quite intense. At times, it becomes hard to listen to. Caroline and Herta are based on real life people who did these things that are described in the book. Kasia, is a story based on many of the rabbits. It can be a difficult read at times, but no book on this time period is an easy read. Initially, Caroline seemed to be quite shallow to me, and her 'romance' with Paul just seemed odd. But eventually, she accomplishes some amazing things.

I do have to get this out - WORST BOOK COVER!!! It is quite a lovely picture but this shows no representation of what is INSIDE the book. To be honest, when the book came out, I knew it was a story based around WWII. But looking at the cover, I thought it was some book about a bunch of wealthy girls and how they living during this time, but thinking it would be a fluff book. In fact, I returned it to the library initially. The book is so much more and the cover has nothing to do with it other than there are three main female characters.

I listened to this one via audio and it was wonderful. Three different female narrators, one for each character. All did a fabulous job and really immersed me in to the story. I would suggest the audio version for those that enjoy audios. Overall, a great story about three different women that should not be missed.
Profile Image for KAS.
317 reviews3,130 followers
August 21, 2019
Have you ever heard of the “Rabbit Girls?” I would imagine most reading this review, have not. Neither had I. Unfortunately they are forgotten women of WWII.

This storyline is based on a true story. Two of the three women we follow beginning in the year 1939 are real people, and their names have not been changed. The other is loosely based on a woman who was an actual “Rabbit Girl.” All three women’s lives intersect.

Caroline, an American actress with ancestral ties to France, who works in the French Consulate in New York.

Kasia, a Polish teenager, who joins the resistance group against the Nazi occupiers.

Herta, a German doctor who is assigned to work within a concentration camp.

I really enjoyed hearing Ms. Kelly’s remarks at the end and what compelled her to write this book. I applaud her extensive three year research to impart the harsh realities of what took place, and the incomprehensible suffering to light.

This novel is captivating, extremely well written and heart wrenching, which I highly recommend.

I listened to the amazing audiobook, and was thrilled to hear three different women narrators. Truly stunning performances!!
Profile Image for Lori Elliott (catching up).
733 reviews1,778 followers
April 12, 2016
After all the books I've read about the horrors surronding WWII it still amazes me how awful humans can be to each other. Lilac Girls is one of those novels that brings to light a little known atrocity... the experimentation on women in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. The writing is so raw that at times I wasn't sure I'd be able to get through it. It saddens me so much to think that any of the victims of these atrocities would carry guilt feeling any it was their fault. I appreciate the dedication and research Kelly did in order to bring these women's story to us. It is important that stories like these continue to be written so that the victims of these atrocities are never forgotten. 4.5 stars.

*Spoiler? My one criticism might be a spoiler so at this point you might want to stop reading...

The only part of this story I didn't really feel connected with was the relationship between Caroline and Paul. Something about it just felt off. To my surprise, I discovered in the Authors Note that this was the only totally fictious relationship in the book. I don't think this relationship was needed and it would've earned a 5 star rating from me if it had been omitted. Still a brillant story.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,740 reviews2,267 followers
January 6, 2018
Ravensbrück. The first time I heard the name as a child, I pictured an older grand mansion needing care, having seen better days, like the movie 1946 film, Dragonwyck, a movie made before my time, but one I have to which I have a connection, of sorts.

”The lawn grew lush and green, and flowers rose up along the base of the building. To the left, high on a ridge overlooking the camp, sat four leader houses built in Heimatschutzstil, homeland-preserving style, with natural stone columns and half-timbered balconies. A mix of Nordic and German styles, pleasing to the eye. This was a place of superior value — high-class, one might even call it.

“’Up on the ridge, the one overlooking the camp is the commandant’s house,’ Fritz said.

“If not for the glimpse of high stone walls topped with barbed wire behind the administration building, one might have mistaken the camp for a convalescent home, not a reeducation camp for prisoners.”

Dragonwyck sounds ominous, filled with dark shadows, but it pales in comparison to the darkness of Ravensbrück, a concentration camp exclusively for women from 1939 through 1945, subjecting select detainees to death and / or torture, and medical experimentation, including surgeries.

This story, their stories are told through Kasia, Caroline, and Herta.

”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.” - Caroline

Caroline is based on the true story of Caroline Ferriday, a former Broadway actress and socialite who was also known for taking up the cause for those Polish women who had been held as prisoners at Ravensbrück, but during the war she lent her talents and resources to helping raise funds and send care packages for the orphans in France.

Kasia is a young woman, eighteen, from Lublin, Poland who becomes involved with the Resistance, and as a result she is arrested, along with her sister and her mother. They are transported to Ravensbrück, where Herta, Dr. Herta Oberhauser, a newly graduated surgeon – female surgeon – has recently applied for a position. Kasia and her sister’s stories are based, somewhat loosely, on a pair of sisters who did survive Ravensbrück. Martha Hall Kelly has put in her research, and it shows.

Herta, who is another character based on the real Dr. Herta Oberhauser, received a book of her own on medicine -‘Atlas of General Surgery’ - when she accompanies her father on a visit to his favourite “treater of the sick”, a man she refers to as Katz, a doctor by right, but Jews were no longer seen as doctors. When her father tells the “treater of the sick” of her desire to be a surgeon, which, under national socialism she was not allowed to specialize in, Dr. Katz gives her this ‘Atlas’ with the instructions that she’s to bring it back once she’s finished reading it, and he’ll loan her another. She reads through it quickly, and makes her way back to his home to exchange it for another only to find him gone, and the SS carrying out boxes of his books.

”It was sad to see someone’s possessions taken in such a way, but the Jews had been warned. They knew the Führer’s requirements. This was unfortunate, but not new, and it was for the good of Germany.”

Eventually, all these stories weave into one, a tapestry of pain, horror, sadness, and even some love and beauty. Grace, even. Hopefully, stories like these will never be forgotten, and hopefully we’ll get to a point where we won’t need to remember them. In the meantime, I am left feeling a bit haunted by this story, by the stories of these women, and all they endured.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
I am haunted by waters.”

― Norman Maclean, ‘A River Runs Through It

Many thanks, once again, to the Public Library system, and the many Librarians that manage, organize and keep it running, for the loan of this book!
Profile Image for Dorie  - Cats&Books :).
991 reviews2,763 followers
November 26, 2018
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This was a difficult book to read and review. At one point early on in this novel I almost put it aside. The atrocities that it outlines in great, graphic detail, were almost too much for me. Then, curious about the author, I went on her website where she describes how she came to write this novel. It was here that I discovered that the main characters in the book are based on the lives of real people. Reading about all of the author’s research on Ms. Ferriday and her travels to Ravensbruck made me want to read this book.

The story is told from three different points of view.

Caroline Ferriday, was a New York socialite working with the French Consulate in New York at the beginning of the story. She works to put together boxes with clothing and personal items to be sent to the French children who were orphaned during the war. Because she was well known among the wealthy society women of New York she is able to raise much needed funds to continue her work for the orphans. She holds numerous balls and other functions in order to raise awareness as well as money.

Herta Oberheuser, is a young German doctor, the only female doctor at Ravensbruck. She believes and totally agrees with Hitler’s plans for the country. She is part of the group of doctors that performed horrific experiments on healthy Polish women. Their legs were often operated on, introducing objects as well as bacteria into them with the supposed goal of learning how to best heal the German soldiers at the front. The women suffered terribly with no access to pain medication. These women were often called “rabbits” because after the surgeries they often hopped about on one healthy leg and also because they were the Nazi’s experimental “rabbits”.

Kasia is a young Polish woman working with the underground resistance in Poland who was captured, along with her mother and sister, and imprisoned at Ravensbruck and she was one of almost 50 women who were operated on.

The characters were very real to me. I sat reading about Herta and wondering how anyone could be so cruel, so heartless, so completely blinded by ambition and Hitler’s world, to perform those horrific operations on other women.

Caroline Ferriday contributed so much to the rehabilitation of the formerly imprisoned Polish women. After the war when it becomes known what really happened at Ravensbruck, Caroline sought out the women who were the “rabbits”. She again rallied the wealthy people that she knew and was able to bring a number of the women to the United States where they were operated upon, this time with some wonderful success in restoring function to the parts of their body that had been maimed. The strength and resolve of these women is amazing. Not only did they survive their horrors but also managed to get the word out to the free world about what was happening. Later they helped bring justice to the world by pointing out and speaking against the doctors at Ravensbruck when they were charged with crimes against humanity.

In re-reading my review I realized that I make the book sound very dry, it isn't at all. There is much emotion here and relationships between prisoners, Ms. Ferriday's friends, etc. I have just pointed out the bones of the book and how I felt about it. It is a book that you will get caught up in because the characters are real and their friendships and loved ones are what kept most all of them going to pursue their goal. Survival was the goal of the prisoners and for Ms. Ferriday and her friends the goal was to lend help to orphans and women prisoners and to ensure that those responsible will be held to account for their actions.

At the end of the book there is a very comprehensive author’s note which states many of the things which I found on Ms. Kelly’s website. I would still encourage you to visit the site as there are photos and more information about her research and Ravensbruck.
February 11, 2017
This book, based upon a true story, is about three women during World War 2.

Caroline Ferriday is a single New York socialite who does volunteer work for the French Consulate aiding orphans. Compassionate about her work, twenty-something Caroline wants to do something meaningful with her life. We follow her life through WW2 and how her she ultimately ends up helping raise money to rehabilitate women whose lives were severely impacted at Ravensbruck . Kasia Kuzmerick is a 17 year old, living in Poland who joins the resistance when her country is invaded by the Nazis. She is from a tight- knit family consisting of a sister, Zuzanna, a medical student, and her parents. Herta Oberheuser is a German doctor who takes a medical position in Ravensbruck, a forced labor camp for women under the Nazi regime. Herta is the villain of the story.

The lives of these women intertwine in a sad yet powerful story. Until I read this book, I was unaware of the horrors that took place at Ravensbruck. The book can be intense at times but is very well written. I appreciated that the book did not end at the liberation of the camp. The stories continue, and we are able to gain insight into some of struggles and issues faced by families after the war.

This is an excellent historical fiction novel. The author provides a nice follow up at the end discussing how her writing of this novel started. This is a debut novel by the author. I look forward to her next book that I hear is in the works!

Giveaway on my blog until 2/13 of new paperback version available 2/28 https://www.facebook.com/suzyapproved...
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books906 followers
July 2, 2020
A dynamite blend of fact, fiction and thematic storytelling.

The pages breeze by and it isn't clear just how carefully crafted it is until the author's note at the end, where she explains all the real world significance. I'm always amazed by authors who can effortlessly weave in history without being mundane. Historical fiction writers take note! This is a text to study.

If I were to critique anything, I'd say it did feel overlong in places and the romantic interests never quite felt authentic. Very minor complaints, though. Recommended!
Profile Image for Sandysbookaday is (reluctantly) on hiatus.
1,968 reviews2,038 followers
February 7, 2017
Lilac Girls is a quietly powerful book set in the second World War and based on a true story.

It is well narrated by three different narrators, one for each POV.

The story is told through the eyes of Caroline Ferraday, New York Socialite; Kasia Kuzmerick , a young Polish woman; and Herta Oberheuser a young German Doctor, whose lives are set on a collusion course.

In my eyes, this is a 'must read' book. And when you do, don't skip the author's note at the end on how the book came to be written. for while I managed to stay dry eyed while I listened to the actual novel, Martha Hall Kelly's spiel at the end had me in tears.

Profile Image for Sheyla ✎.
1,813 reviews474 followers
December 21, 2020
What an interesting story!

Caroline Ferriday was a real person. A devoted philanthropist who felt compelled to help others. One of the most important achievements of her life was to help with the ones called "Rabbits".

The Rabbits were the Polish women who were taken into the largest all-female concentration camp in Ravensbrück and who many surgical procedures were performed against their will. Many different surgeries were done including sterilization and introducing different materials like dirt, glass, and bacterial cultures into their legs to promote infection and to test the efficacy of sulfa drugs. More than half of the Rabbits died from these experiments. The 35 Ravensbrück Rabbit survivors suffered from chronic pain, infections, and inability to walk. After the war and over the years, no one helped them until Caroline Ferriday learned about them and she made sure the USA learned about them too. Then, the Rabbits came to America and got the reconstructive surgery and treatment they needed all at no cost to them.

I was so engrossed in the story and it's three narrators.

Caroline Ferriday: almost as her true self. A socialite who dedicates her time to a cause while working (for free) at the French Consulate in New York when the war begins. She helps deliver packages for children in different orphanages in France.

Kasia: A young Polish girl at the beginning of the war who as part of the underground resistance is found out and is taken to Ravensbrück in the company of her mother, a nurse, and her sister, a physician.

Herta Oberheuser: she's a german surgeon who believes blindly in Hitler. She takes the job at Ravensbruck and despite being the only female doctor she has no qualms in running the experiments on the Polish women.

Lilac Girls was sad and horrifying but it also exhibited hope, love, empathy, and the will to survive against all odds.

Cliffhanger: No

4/5 Fangs

MrsLeif's Two Fangs About It | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
Profile Image for Holly  B (Short break!).
812 reviews1,861 followers
December 26, 2018
A powerful historical World War II novel based on real people and this one has been seared into my memory...

The author did extensive research to bring this story to life. Caroline Ferriday and Herta Oberheuser were real people. The two sisters- Kasia and Zuzanna were based on research of 74 "Polish survivors" of Hitler's Ravensbruck women only concentration camp.  These survivors were known as "rabbits" because of the horrendous experimental operations that were performed on them.

The author's powerful writing had me feeling like I "was there" watching the lives of each of these women unfold and how they each lost control of everything dear to them.  I held my breath, tensed up and felt nervous at the many  heart stopping cliffhangers...  I was furious with Herta, the young German Nazi physician that performed many ot the experimental surgeries without qualms or hesitation.
The portrayal of Ravensbruck was so vivid and absolutely frightening. I couldn't even begin to imagine the suffering and heart break the women went through.

I missed this one when it published in 2016 and wanted to read it before I started the author's newest novel,  Lost Roses  which publishes in April 2019.

This story was one of evilness, loss, love, survival, and redemption.  Such a well-written, absorbing, and unforgettable story. Highly recommend!

I purchased this one for my personal library and highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Dana Ilie.
404 reviews347 followers
October 1, 2018
Martha Hall Kelly’s prose and style are both just beautiful. It’s a style that both stands separate from the plot and also enlightens and enhances it. I often paused to admire a particular phrase or a gorgeous description or a well expressed emotion. This is the type of language that I just want to read slowly to soak up.
This novel was the three perspectives. I love novels that give us the narrative inside the heads of multiple narrators. Kelly does this seamlessly and beautifully. She creates vivid and meaningful stories from the eyes of each of the women. If only the chapters didn’t end on such tantalizing cliff hangers! I was definitely pushed to keep reading as a Caroline chapter ended with questions that took several chapters to return to!

I love that Caroline is a real person and actually helped so many people find a better life both during and after the war. I found her story to be unique and intriguing. There are a lot of novels about WWII (and I’m a fan of many!) but few focus on Americans connecting with the conflicts in such specific and raw ways. I loved the interactions between Caroline and the Polish women. Caroline is an inspiration but she is also flawed. I found her complex character fascinating; the ways she changed and grew in wisdom were compelling and inspiring.

I really appreciated the postwar chapters and would have liked more of the book in that time period. This isn’t a part of WWII history that I have read much about so I wanted more development in those chapters. I appreciated learning more about occupied Poland and life under both Hitler and Stalin. What made Kasia’s voice interesting is the ways she learns to (or is forced to) cope with her experiences in Ravensbruck when she returns to Poland. I would have liked more development and more specific details about how she and her family coped postwar.

While I can appreciate the unique point of view of a Nazi doctor, I gradually grew to dislike her and the way she hardened. I haven’t read any novel that includes a Nazi sympathizing protagonist. It was interesting and also difficult to read her point of view. But what I disliked is how Herta chose to be hardened (see the women as experiments and placing the science above humans) to what was happening in the camps.

Profile Image for Jonetta.
2,202 reviews918 followers
October 6, 2016
This is a fictional story of the real-life women who were subjected to medical experiments at Hitler's Ravensbrüch concentration camp, the only one exclusively for women. The story is told from three narratives: Caroline Ferriday, a New York debutant and socialite who worked tirelessly on behalf of French orphans before and at the war's outbreak; Kasia Kuzmerick, a young Polish woman who was subjected to these experiments at Ravensbrüch; and Herta Oberheuser, one of the camp doctors (the only female one) conducting the experiments.

I thought I was familiar with most of the atrocities of the Holocaust but the plight of these women, referred to as the Ravensbrüch Rabbits because of the abnormalities of their gaits resulting from the tests, was a new account for me. Using the voices of a victim, perpetrator and savior helped to vividly portray the complete perspective. As distasteful and dispassionate as I found Herta's point of view, it was essential to the story and made a big difference.

One of the reasons I enjoy historical fiction is the opportunity to learn something about a period of time that I didn't know previously. So much of this story was enlightening and I especially liked learning about Caroline Ferriday who is not a fictional character and lived a life of charity and substance. It's a haunting, difficult story but I'm glad I read this book, one of unlikely heroes and incredible sisterhood.
Profile Image for Liz.
2,019 reviews2,520 followers
September 22, 2018
3.5 stars. The basis for this book is interesting, based as it is on two real individuals and a composite for the third. At the beginning, you wonder how the three story lines will become entwined. It doesn't take long for the first two to merge, as the Polish girl finds herself at Ravensbruck and the German woman takes work as a doctor there.

The weakness in the book is the characters themselves, especially Herta, the German. I would have liked to seen it fleshed out more how she reconciled herself with the experiments she helps conduct at Ravensbruck. It's the same with Caroline Ferriday. She seemed to be missing a backstory. Why was she so different than her peers? What made her care when so many others were willing to turn a blind eye?

The author has done her homework and there are interesting tidbits of information that I assume are true, like German girls being encouraged to have children out of wedlock to populate the Rhineland. Or after the war, how the French powered their cars with a wood burning stove on the back.

This book had great potential but didn't quite fulfill it.

Re-read9/18. My initial concerns remain the same. But that said, I found the book drew me in more this time than on my first read. The author’s note actually does a better job of explaining Caroline than the book.
Profile Image for Nicole.
731 reviews1,829 followers
July 3, 2021
No matter how much you read about that difficult time, WWII novels never fail to give you a piece of information that you missed, a truth that you failed to discover, a knowledge that will change, at least a little, the way you see the world. And that's what I love about these stories. World War II horrors are endless, and a book that succeeded to show me new pieces of history doesn't deserve less than 4 stars.

Lilac Girls is based on a true story who is told from the perspective of three women: an American socialite, a German doctor, and a Polish girl.

Caroline Ferriday, a person from real life, comes from wealthy but generous family. She volunteers at the French consulate in New York City. All her life evolved around her work, trying her best to help orphans in France. At 37, she swore celibacy, losing hope in any love life. Until she met Paul, a married actor. But his wife wasn't the most loyal, plus she lived in Paris. Caroline found herself spending her free time (something she rarely had) with this handsome charming man. However, Hitler invading Poland changed everything. Soon France was his new target and her beloved people were in more need than ever. Elize and Caroline Ferriday dedicated their time and possessions to help others.

Kasia Kuzmerick was a 17 years old girl when her life changed up side down. After the attack on Poland in 1939, she started working for the underground, she still dreamed about her crush, her best friend Pietrik, but that did not last for she was caught with her sister Zuzanna, her matka and Pietrik sister. She always blamed herself, though. She didn't notice the SS men following her after completing a secret mission.
They took them to the Ravensbrück a women's concentration camp during World War II. Kasia Kuzmerick and her sister Zuzanna are loosely based on Nina Iwanska and her physician sister Krystyna, both operated on at the camp.

Herta Oberheuser, a german doctor, always dreamed of being a surgeon, something not allowed for women at the time. So when the opportunity came to work at Ravensbrück, she didn't hesitate. Being the only doctor woman at the camp surely would get appreciation from Führer higher authorities. She was the product of the nazi education.

Ravensbrück is known for the operations its doctors performed on the prisoners. If you're interested to know what happened during these experiments on women, I don't think it's a spoiler since it actually happened but if you are planning on reading this book and don't won't want any spoilers then skip this paragraph, the rest take a deep breath:

Starting in the summer of 1942, medical experiments were conducted without consent on 86 women; 74 of them were Polish inmates. Two types of the experiments were conducted on the Polish political prisoners. The first type tested the efficacy of sulfonamide drugs. These experiments involved deliberate cutting into and infecting of leg bones and muscles with virulent bacteria, cutting nerves, introducing substances like pieces of wood or glass into tissues, and fracturing bones. The second set of experiments studied bone, muscle, and nerve regeneration, and the possibility of transplanting bones from one person to another. Out of the 74 Polish victims, called Kaninchen, Króliki, Lapins, or Rabbits by the experimenters, five died as a result of the experiments, six with unhealed wounds were executed, and (with assistance from other inmates) the rest survived with permanent physical damage..

And that's not even all of it. The cruelty Aufseherin, nazi female guards, didn't help. Some germans working at the camp were more sympathetic than others but The treatment by the SS women in Ravensbrück was normally brutal. Dr Karl Gebhardt designed the experiments after failing to save the life of Hitler's friend Reinhard Heydrich who died in a car bomb. Hitler believed he would have lived if Gebhardt used sulfa drugs to treat infected wounds. Gebhardt recreated the wounds on prisoners to prove that was not the case.

Saying these are atrocities is an understatement.

Back to Caroline, it's amazing how much she sacrificed for others. At first, she looks like she isn't connected to the story of the other 2 main characters but later we know why she's called A Godmother to Ravensbrück Survivors. However, the story would have done without Paul, She was a wonderful woman.
Kasia annoyed me many times but I was satisfied with the end. I guess the author tried to make her as real as possible, but after all, she went through I understand.

The more I read about wars, the human cruelty always shocks me. One might think that being a woman, Herta might have been sympathetic, I thought she would have been at first, but no. It was interesting to read from a nazi's perspective. Her mind was so damaged that she thought her actions were only natural, for the best of the Reich. She was like a puppet, a person who doesn't think for himself.

Now you might ask, why only 4 stars if the book was this excellent?

Even though the writing was decent and flawless most of the time, I didn't feel the click. As much as the story was supposed to be emotional, I couldn't relate to the characters. I was torn between 3 and 4 stars because I didn't connect with our 3 narrators but I have a soft spot for this genre, I always appreciate the new things from real I learn from books. I didn't feel the depth of their character especially Herta who was so plain, like a robot. She was a real person, she supposed to be something. Caroline was amazing, yes, but still, I couldn't get attached to her story, yet I know what she has done was great, helping the Rabbits and all. From those three, I connected and only a little with Kasia. But not enough. Other than that the book was great. The best thing about it is that Martha Hall Kelly did a good job covering the events in 4 countries: France, Poland, Germany and USA giving the right amount of information necessary to the story and reminding us of the events and the courage of people during that difficult period that should not be forgotten.

Caroline Ferriday:

Herta Oberheuser:

Female prisoners at Ravensbrück concentration at the time of liberation by the Soviet Army in 1945:

Caroline Ferriday and former Ravensbrück concentration camp survivors celebrating Christmas at Ferriday's home in Bethlehem:

So this is the end of the history lesson and review of the book. I highly recommend Lilac Girls if you like WWII novels.

Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
July 23, 2020
Lilac Girls (Lilac Girls #1), Martha Hall Kelly

Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine. 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 Ravensbruck, 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.

ناریخ نخستین خوانش نسخه اصلی: روز دوم ماه آگوست سال 2019میلادی

عنوان: دختران یاس؛ نویسنده: مارتا هال کلی؛ مترجم: پگاه ملکیان؛ تهران انتشارات میلکان‏‫، 1396؛ در 448ص؛ شابک: 9786008812555؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 21م‮‬

کتاب «دختران یاس»، که بر اساس داستانی واقعی، از زندگی قهرمان داستان، توسط «مارتا هال کلی»، نگاشته شده، نخستین بار در سال 2016میلادی منتشر شد؛ داستانِ عشق، رستگاری، و رازهایی را روایت میکند، که دهها سال پنهان مانده بودند، و نمایانگر قدرت زنان گمنام، در تغییر تاریخ است، «کارولاین فریدی»، که در نیویورک اسم و رسمی دارد، همیشه سرش گرم کار پرمشغله اش در کنسولگری «فرانسه» است، و در این موقع، رابطه ی عاشقانه ای برای او، در حال شکلگیری است.؛ اما دنیای «کارولاین» با حمله ی ارتش «هیتلر»، به «لهستان»، در سال 1939میلادی، و هدفگیری «فرانسه» به عنوان طعمه ی بعدی خویش، برای همیشه تغییر میکند.؛

آنسوی اقیانوس، و به دور از «کارولاین»، «کاسیا کوزمریک»، نوجوانی «لهستانی»، حس میکند، که جوانی بی دغدغه اش، در حال بلعیده شدن، توسط کار پرخطرش، به عنوان نامه رسان زیرزمینیِ نیروهای مقاومت است.؛ در شرایط خفقان آور جنگ، و زیر نگاههای شکاک، یک حرکت اشتباه، عواقب جبران نشدنی، به دنبال دارد. برای پزشک جاه طلب آلمانی، «هرتا اوبرهوزر»، آگهیِ نیازمندیِ پزشک ارتش، همچو بلیطی برای خروج از زندگی تاریک خویش است، اما آنگاه که به استخدام آن سازمان درمیآید، میبیند که در حرفه ی مردانه، و پر از رازِ «نازی»ها گیر کرده است.؛ زندگی این سه زن، با رویدادهای عجیب و نامنتظره ای، به هم گره خورده، و داستان آنها از «نیویورک»، تا «پاریس»، «آلمان»، و «لهستان»، کش و قوسهای فراوانی پیدا میکند.؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 02/05/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Debbie W..
724 reviews485 followers
November 26, 2020
So many books have been written about WWII/the Holocaust/Hitler's concentration camps, and rightly so, but when an acquaintance highly recommended that I read LILAC GIRLS, I assumed that it would be another well-written account based on these topics. It IS well-written, but I was astonished to learn that this heartfelt story is based on real-life people and events that I had never heard of before! The book focuses on three women whose lives intertwine because of the horrific events that occurred in Ravensbruck, one of Hitler's concentration camps. Martha Hall Kelly has done a first-rate job researching this story and developing these characters with such emotional intensity. The audiobook's three narrators bring these women to life. A MUST READ for everybody!
Profile Image for Danielle.
806 reviews400 followers
April 19, 2021
I joke with my book friends, that all historical fiction just makes me cry- cause the history itself is just so sad. 💔 This, of course, is sad as well. 😢 Told from three different POV- a well off socialite in the US, a Polish Nazi camp prisoner and a Nazi doctor working in a concentration camp. All of them are impacted the war, but their experiences were all so drastically different. I’d suggest tissues for this read.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,219 reviews2,052 followers
October 16, 2016
This was a fascinating read, not quite perfect,so four rather than five stars, but still a book I would recommend everyone to read.
I found out so much more than I already knew about World War 11, particularly as to what happened in Poland during and after the war. I also found it necessary after reading the book to research a bit more in order to fully understand it all.
My only reservation was that I never really felt attached to any of the characters. I was duly shocked by all they had to endure but I never really felt a part of it myself which was a shame.
Nevertheless it was a great story, well told and very emotive. Proof too that not all war heroes are men by a long shot!
December 19, 2016
Excellent book! 5 stars! One of my favourite books of 2016!! Told from three characters' viewpoints, I was completely enthralled in each storyline. Very disturbing and horrific subject matter when reading about what went on at the concentration camp - hard to read at times and hard to believe this book is based on true events. Very well written - I was hooked from the first page to the very last page in the Author's Note. It was interesting to read about the author's journey through researching and writing this novel in the Author's Note.
Profile Image for Marilyn C..
282 reviews
June 16, 2016
Do not let the idyllic cover of this book fool you; three girls, arm in arm, having a leisurely stroll together. This book is about Ravensbruck, a women's concentration camp located in northern Germany, during World War II. Over 130,000 women went through this camp with the majority never leaving: dying from disease, starvation or execution. These women were also subjected to grotesque experiments that would leave them disfigured, sterilized or dead. They would become known as the Ravensbruck rabbits.

Martha Hall Kelly's debut novel is eye opening and disturbing to read at times. The book alternates between three stories, Caroline Ferriday, Herta Oberheuser, and Kasia Kuzmerick. Two of those stories, Caroline's and Herta's, are based on real people. I found the beginning of the book with the alternating stories to be distracting and a little confusing at times. There is a wonderful thread of sisterhood and friendship in this story. With everything and everyone that was taken from them, all these women had were each other.

Although, it is difficult to read about the atrocities that happened during the Holocaust, this book is a must read for everyone. 4.5 Stars rounded up to 5 Stars
Profile Image for Jennifer Blankfein.
384 reviews654 followers
November 24, 2017
Follow me on Book Nation by Jen for all my reviews and recommendations.
If you missed the release of Lilac Girls, now is the time to buy the paperback. It is historical fiction based on true and harrowing events during World War II. For me, the Holocaust has always been mostly about how the Jews were prosecuted; a devastating time in our history across the world. But of course the Jewish people were not the only ones who were affected. Author Martha Hall Kelly gets up close and personal with Kasia, a young Polish girl with Jewish ancestry who is completing secret missions for the underground anti-war efforts and is captured by the Gestapo with her sister and her mother… Herta, an out of work, German doctor who is offered a job at the women’s re-education camp and forced to execute by lethal injections… and Caroline, a New York francophile who sent supplies to the orphanages in France and who becomes a hero and savior to many.

Each chapter is about one of the three women; we learn about their everyday lives and challenges, love, relationships, hope and dreams as they navigate life during the war. The most inspiring character for me is the reality based Caroline Ferriday. She works for the French consulate, sending money and supplies to those in France during the late 1930s and early 1940s. Ultimately she learns of the Rabbits, this courageous group of young women being held at the concentration camp who were victims of a tragic medical experiment…horrible surgeries performed on them unnecessarily, their legs mangled and infected on purpose by the camp doctors to see what medicines worked, how much pain could be tolerated and which infections could be treated. Many women died of this horrendous torture, but approximately 75 strong willed victims survived. After Hitler was defeated, Caroline sought them out and brought all of these women to NYC for medical treatment and a tour of the United States.

If you have the chance to see author Martha Hall Kelly speak, do it! You will hear about her research process for this book and how she travelled to Poland and had the privilege of meeting and interviewing several of the surviving Rabbits. She has also spent countless hours at Caroline Ferriday’s summer house in Connecticut where the women stayed when they came overseas. Her information gathering and writing process along with her book, Lilac Girls, are fascinating, and lucky for us, a prequel is in the making! My book group and I were thrilled to spend a little time with Martha, hearing the back story and asking some questions. Lilac Girls is a book not to be missed!
Profile Image for Erin.
2,955 reviews485 followers
June 19, 2019
A compelling historical fiction that sheds light on the horrific human experiments at Ravensbruck concentration camp during World War II and the American socialite that fought for the story to be heard. Split into three parts and told through the eyes of three different women, Lilac Girls covers the period between 1939-1959 and takes readers from Germany to Poland, and New York City and Paris.

Lilac Girls shines a light on the brutality of war and the different forms of political resistance and survival. A truly moving story that I will never forget.
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