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Archive: Other Books > Lilac Girls / Martha Hall Kelly - 3.5***

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Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 6406 comments Cross-posted to Denizen's memorial read list

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Lilac Girls – Martha Hall Kelly
Audiobook performed by Cassandra Campbell (Caroline), Kathleen Gati (Kasia)and Kathrin Kana (Herta)
3.5***

Using three different narrators, the novel tells the WW2 story of the women prisoners held at the notorious Nazi prison camp Ravensbrück. Kelly used two real-life women: Caroline Ferriday, a New York socialite and Broadway actress, and Dr. Herta Oberheuser, a German physician who became the only female surgeon operating at the prison camp. The third narrator is Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager who is sent to the camp along with her sister, mother, and several friends after her work in the Resistance is discovered. In the author’s note at the end of the novel, Kelly states that she Kasia and her sister, Zuzanna, are loosely based on Nina Iwanska and her sister Krystyna, who were both operated on at Ravensbrück. She further populates the novel with a variety of fictional and real characters supporting these three central figures.

I was most interested in the scenes that take place at Ravensbrück. I knew some of the story of this horrible place and the “experimental surgeries” performed on the women there, but Kelly made it personal and vivid. I also really like how she explored the PTSD (though it wasn’t called that then) suffered by Kasia and Zuzanna and the other “Rabbits” in the years following their release from Ravensbrück.

As for Caroline’s love story with Paul Rodier – it is completely fabricated. I understand why Kelly did this– she was trying to make Caroline more real and to give her a stronger connection to France and what happened in that country during WW2 – but I thought it was a distraction from the central plot. If I were her editor I would have cut it.

I also thought that of the three women, we learned the least about Herta Oberheuser. She was the only woman tried for war crimes at Nuremberg. I wish that Kelly has spent a bit more time fleshing out her character.

All told, this is a good historical fiction debut about a fascinating and important, but less-well-known, episode of WW2. I would read another book by Kelly.

Cassandra Campbell (Caroline), Kathleen Gati (Kasia), and Kathrin Kana (Herta) do a marvelous job narrating the audiobook. Using a different voice artist for each narrator really helped to keep the stories straight.


LINK to my review


Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7784 comments This is one of very very few books I did not review after reading it. I just couldn't put into words how I felt about it. Your review is very good, and I agree that it would have been great to have a bit more on Oberheuser.

I rated it higher than you, largely in part because I didn't know very much about Ravensbrück other than the very abstract "medical experiments were performed there" so much of it was new information to me, which always makes me bump up a rating for an historical fiction book.

I don't even remember the romance portion now! lol. I guess that goes to show that I didn't find it memorable or important.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Good review. I absolutely loved this book. I actually donated money for the documentary that is in the process of being made. I think for a first time novel the author had a great story. But of course after reading the book I am far more interested in this documentary getting out. Its such a great history and I so hope I can get to the premier when it is finally done. These women were so brave. This author is working on a prequel to this book that will be about Caroline's mother in WWI so that should be interesting.


Jason Oliver | 2105 comments I enjoyed this book but found myself enjoying the non fiction parts and disliking the fiction.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Jason wrote: "I enjoyed this book but found myself enjoying the non fiction parts and disliking the fiction."

I can see this Jason. The non fiction parts is what drew me into the story and made me dig further to find the documentary that is in the process of being made. The real life people who experienced and the history they are trying to preserve.


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