REVIEW: “Lilac Girls” by Martha Hall Kelly

“Lilac Girls” by Martha Hall Kelly

Paperback, 502 pages

Published Feb. 28, 2017, by Ballantine Books

ISBN: 1101883081


“‘Father loved the fact that a lilac only blossoms after a harsh winter … It’s a miracle all this beauty emerges after such hardship, don’t you think?'”

Caroline Ferriday

“Lilac Girls” is the story of three women, from different backgrounds and walks of life, who are caught up in World War II in vastly different ways.

Caroline Ferriday is an American who’s trying to raise awareness and aid for women in war-torn Europe: “I comforted myself with the idea that one must make a deal with the devil in order to help those in need. I’d done business with an anti-Semite, but it was in the service of the beleaguered.”

Kasia Kuzmerick is a Polish teen who’s arrested and sent to a prison camp for women after her work for the underground resistance movement is exposed: “Just don’t feel. If you are to live, you cannot feel.”

Herta Oberheuser is a German doctor who takes a job at that same camp, but little does she know the brutal extent of the work she’ll be doing there: “How lucky I was to be one of the few female doctors under Hitler. It put me in a whole different class.”

My thoughts

Throughout the book, we see striking contrasts between Caroline’s high-society life in New York City and Kasia and Herta’s everyday realities of violence, cruelty and deprivation. We see love lost and found. It’s all set against the backdrop of real events and places like Ravensbruck, where real women lost their lives.

I’m blown away by the amount of research conducted by the author, who released “Lilac Girls” as her debut. Kelly did so much more than just read up on the topics of her writing, and it shows.

Check out this beautiful map. There are two others like it, showing landmarks in Caroline and Kasia’s lives.

“Lilac Girls” made more clear to me the horrors of concentration camps. I’d never before read anything about the Rabbits, a group of female prisoners who were subjected to maiming and sometimes lethal experiments. If you were to base your ideas about this book solely on the beautiful cover, you’d be shocked because there is so much suffering detailed inside. While not an easy read, “Lilac Girls” is a worthy one.

Trigger warning: Two rape scenes in early portions, brief mention of cutting

5 stars

About the author

Author photo and bio courtesy of Goodreads

Martha grew up in Massachusetts and now splits her time between Connecticut, New York City and Martha’s Vineyard. She worked as an advertising copywriter for many years and raised three splendid children, while researching and writing Lilac Girls, her first novel. She is excited to share the prequel, Lost Roses, coming this April and is thrilled she doesn’t have to say good-bye to Caroline and Eliza. You’ll find more info about the incredible, true stories behind both books at her website: and clues about the prequel Lost Roses on her ever-changing Pinterest page.

10 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Lilac Girls” by Martha Hall Kelly

  1. Lovely review. When I read a book that references or is based around real event, I am always relieved to see that the author has done their research. I don’t think that I could read this but that is due to my inability to cope with real horrific events.

    Liked by 1 person

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