Friday, February 21, 2020

Audio Book Review: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Genre: Adult Historical Fiction/Audio Book
Pub. Date:  April 5, 2016
Publisher: Random House Audio
Source: Personal Copy
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "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."

Caroline, according to society's standards, should be married with kids by now, so instead of taking the conventional path, she dedicates her life to charity work at the French Consulate in New York City.  The year is 1939 and it's a tumultuous time right now with Hitler on the move in Europe.  To complicate matters further, her love interest, Paul, leaves Manhattan for occupied Paris. Will she ever see him again? Then there's Kasia, who is a young girl living in in Poland. Obviously her world is turned upside down now that the Germans occupy her hometown.  Instead of spending her days as a carefree teenager, she finds herself working for the Resistance. This is a risky undertaking to say the least.  Lastly, there's Herta, a young German doctor and loyal Nazi.  She has high hopes for herself, but her plans are thwarted when she ends up at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp.  This isn't what she had in mind, especially when she realizes the Nazis are experimenting on young women or executing them upon arrival.  All of the women's lives end up intersecting at some point and Martha Hall Kelly's Lilac Girls brilliantly brings to life all three real-life women's stories that are so important and I'm glad are not forgotten.

At first, I wasn't drawn to Caroline's story as much as Kasia and Herta's in Lilac Girls.  Kasia and Herta's chapters felt like serious WWII stories; whereas, Caroline's chapters initially felt the opposite. As Caroline's story unfolds though, she grew on me as she becomes entwined with Kasia and other female survivors who suffered at Ravensbruck.  This brings me to Kasia. Her story was the strongest of the three women and often times it was difficult to listen to it.  I frequently had to take a break, but that doesn't mean it wasn't good. It was just so vivid and heartbreaking. However, it's so important to hear the horrors that went on in the concentration camps as we must not forget what the Nazis did.  I knew a fair amount about Ravensbruck prior to listening to this novel, but Kelly truly brought the atrocities to life as it was from Kasia's perspective. Her story isn't something you easily forget, such as the gruesome experimental surgeries or the horrific deaths of people she knew and loved.  Lastly, Herta's story is equally as horrible as we are getting her perpsecive as a Nazi doctor who performed horrible surgeries and experiments on her patients. These women ended up being referred to as "Rabbits" and it was truly unspeakable, but a story that should absolutely be told.

The three different narrators in the audio book were Cassandra Campbell, Kathrin Kana, and Kathleen Gati. They each had different accents and tones, which I thought was done so very well and made it easy to decipher between the three very different characters in Lilac Girls.

I loved finding out that Caroline, Herta, and Kasia were based on real-life people as women's stories often go untold, so I appreciate that Kelly brought this to life. The montrosocities that occurred at Ravensbruck shouldn't be forgotten and I know that Lilac Girls is a book that won't easily be forgotten by me.  It's a powerful read for sure and a vivid audio book. I look forward to reading her next novel, Lost Roses.

Did you read or listen to Lilac Girls? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. 


  1. I haven't been reading as much historical fiction lately, but I'm adding it to my TBR after seeing how much you enjoyed it!

  2. I haven't read this one, but I do really enjoy WWII historical fiction, especially when it brings new, important stories to the forefront.


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