So realistically written, it's painful to read

Lilac Girls - Martha Hall Kelly

Don’t let the pretty cover fool you.  This is a historical novel about the atrocious experiments performed on women at Ravensbruck in Germany during WWII.  It makes for a very painful read but unfortunately it’s a story that needs to be shared time and time again.  This book is based on fact which makes it all the more horrifying.  While I have read articles about this camp before, I’ve never read a historical novel centered on this concentration camp for women.


There are three main characters that this book tells the stories of.  Caroline Ferriday (a real-life person) works tirelessly for the French consulate in the US.  She is a selfless woman who spends most of her time doing charity work, including ripping up her beautiful silk and satin costumes from her time as an actress to sew clothing for French orphans.  There’s a love story included for Caroline with Paul Rodierre, a handsome married actor.  This part of the story is not based on fact and I do wish the author had chosen not to include it.  The only reason I can see that she did was to possibly fill in a more complete storyline for Caroline but it’s the only part that just doesn’t ring true and can sometimes be annoying.  This love triangle is one of the reason I’m not giving this book 5 stars, which it otherwise deserves.


Kasia Kuzmerick (not a real-life person), is a Polish teenager who gets pulled into the underground resistance movement with devastating consequences.  Her story is a tragic one and is what makes this book such a painful read.


Then there’s Herta Oberheuser, a German doctor (also a real-life person).  I’ve read plenty about Herta before reading this book and I do believe that the writer treats her more sympathetically than she should have.  The author presents her as a young doctor who is trying to find her place in a world of men and is offered a position at Ravensbruck.  Although she is at first resistant to killing healthy people, she stays for the good pay.  As a fellow doctor tells her, “if we don’t do it, they’ll only get someone else to do it” and “it’s for the good of Germany”.  There really isn’t enough fleshing out of this character’s transformation from reluctant to insensitive.  Also, the author neglects to mention some of the atrocities on children performed by this doctor and only concentrates on the “rabbit” experiments and one elderly woman.  I don’t feel there was enough emphasis on the monster this particular doctor was.


What I particularly liked about this book was the sisterly love and camaraderie between these women prisoners.  As always during horrendous times when the blackness of human nature is prevalent, there are always those whose goodness shine through.  I also liked that this book didn’t stop with the end of the war but continued to show what happens to each of the characters for years afterwards and the continuing impact of the events of Ravensbruck on them.


This was a very emotional, difficult read for me.  The book is a well written debut.  Recommended.


This book was given to me by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.