By: Martha Hall Kelly
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: 4/5/2016
My Rating: 5 Stars
Top Books of 2016
Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this powerful debut novel reveals an incredible story of love, redemption, and terrible secrets that were hidden for decades.
On the eve of a fateful war, 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 sinks deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspect neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.
For ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. But, once hired, 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 female-only Nazi concentration camp. The tragedy and triumph of their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, and Germany to Poland—capturing the indomitable pull of compassion to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.
In Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly has crafted a remarkable novel of unsung women and their quest for love, happiness, and second chances. It is a story that will keep readers bonded with the characters, searching for the truth, until the final pages.
Martha Hall Kelly has created a spellbinding journey, both haunting and compelling. LILAC GIRLS—infused eloquently, a blending of fact and fiction— an emotional, and moving historical debut, "bringing to life" three women whose paths, and destinies converge—Unforgettable!
Inspired by true events, the author was influenced by a spark which turned into a burning obsession (when it is meant to be, nothing stands in the way) —a need, a strong desire to tell a story. With this kind of inspiration, you know “the end result” will be spectacular!
As sweet, and as haunting as the fragrance of the sweet lilac flower--where it all began. Wise careful pruning is necessary with lilacs, as the creation of a good story. A tale of courage and grace, triumph and tragedy; injustice and resilient women—a tale, deserving to be told.
The author uses factual research to write a fictionalized account of events of Ravensbrück, taking readers on a journey, to the places where the women, “rabbits” traveled. With keen insights, she breathes new life into a story which had fallen from public view. Shaped by the 74 Polish women, whose spirit and courage have not been forgotten.
Meet the three women:
Caroline Ferriday: (Character is factual with a few liberties taken with fictional twists). I think she would be proud. As the book opens we meet Caroline, from a wealthy family of prestige and power. A New York socialite, former debutante and Broadway actress. By the time Hitler had risen to power and the Nazis had attacked countless countries across Europe, she had left the theater behind and was working as a volunteer in the French Consulate in New York.
She is currently having a delicious affair at the beginning of the book with Paul a French actor. She later became a “Godmother” to Ravensbrück Survivors. She disliked the term ‘heiress’ thinking it was synonymous with pleasure, and instead became a champion for victims of the Holocaust. A heroine and champion for the victims of WWII.
Kasia Kuzmerick: (Character is fictional, based on true accounts). A Polish teenager who works for the resistance movement as Germany begins its invasion. She winds up in Ravensbrück as a Rabbit—a haunting and torturous experience. She joins the underground group, after Nazis occupy her hometown of Lublin, Poland. Arrested, along with her mother and sister. The most profound character. The stories of Kasia are heartbreaking.
Herta Oberheuser: (Character is factual). A German cruel female doctor in a man’s world, accepts a position at Ravensbrück, which includes carrying out the brutal medical experiments. She loyal to the powerful German and Nazi, carrying out unspeakable acts. The least favorite character wondering how she can be human?
Caroline’s French connection led to her pivotal role in helping the post-War recovery of the Ravensbrück Lapins (Rabbits) and survivors of the Ravensbrück concentration camp and its program of forced Nazi medical experiments.
Concentration camps in Nazi Germany were originally set up in 1933 to terrorize Hitler’s political enemies. An all-female camp at Ravensbrück, set up in 1938, soon afforded the prison doctors a steady supply of women — the ‘rabbits’, as these prisoners became known — for medical experiments.
Their stories cross continents —readers go inside Ravensbrück, which sometimes is quite difficult to read; however, important to be aware of the tragedies and horrors subjected upon these women. If you have read previously of the inmates, the intense brutality – the Nazis could smell their fear. From starvation diets, forced abortions, the murders of newborns, drugs, grisly medical experiments, sterilizations, routine shootings, disease, corruption, humiliation, lethal injections and poisonings, as well as gassing that took the lives of between 5,000-6,000 prisoners.
Treated like lab animals with their experiments, crippling healthy women. From broken legs, ones extracted, to nerves and muscles. They even caused infections by deliberate actions of bacteria, and other unsanitary measures.
By 1941 Ferriday had become one of the early American members of France Forever, the Fighting French Committee in America. A few years later Caroline affiliated herself with the ADIR, or National Association of Deportees and Internees of the Resistance, founded in 1945 by female members of the French resistance who had survived their internment in the German camps.
After WWII, Ferriday Pursued Aid for the Ravensbrück Survivors. In 1958, 13 years after the end of World War II, Ferriday was among the first to awaken the American public to the horrors of Ravensbrück.
The novel began with an inspiration: Victoria Magazine, (and the author’s love of lilac); an article from May 1999, she carried for months and became intrigued by Caroline Ferriday, the philanthropist-- how she came to the aid of a group of Polish women who had survived Ravensbruck, Hitler’s only all-female concentration camp.
Kelly then visited and toured the Bellamy-Ferriday House and Garden in Bethlehem, CT, which further inspired interest in the women known as the Rabbits. Over the years, she studied Caroline’s archives from Connecticut, Paris, and Washington. Thereafter she traveled to Poland and Germany, tracking the path, and the story began. Amazing!
Told with passion and sensitivity, Martha Hall Kelly has created a masterpiece! I can always tell when an author has a background in marketing, design, publishing, advertising, or copywriting. It shows in the precise planning, interviews, meticulous research, attractive presentation, packaging, cover, marketing, graphics . . . and the maps, music, website, and writing--she delivers the "complete package!". As a media professional, I appreciate the care, effort, and attention to detail with such an intense project. It shows, "Highly impressive"!
In order to further appreciate this breathtaking story, I urge readers to immediately go to Martha Hall Kelly’s website.Read about the inspiration for the book—the tidbits, letters, places, events, and photos which inspired the story. Loved the maps!
Thank you Martha Hall Kelly, for creating a memorable experience for readers--your passion is reflected throughout each page of the book and website.
A powerful debut, and an incredible story of love, redemption, and terrible secrets—hidden away, for decades. An ideal choice for book clubs or further discussions. Fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale will enjoy the journey.
I also read “Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women,” by Sarah Helm, a British journalist, a biography of the camp and interviews with numerous survivors, transcripts of postwar trials of camp officials and guards, opened after the fall of Communism. Kelly recommends other readings and references, as well.
What made LILAC GIRL an even more engrossing, experience for me; I listened to the audiobook, with one of my favorite narrators, Cassandra Campbell (outstanding- a perfect Caroline),along with Kathleen Gati, Kathrin Kana for the other two voices of Kasia and Herta; and the final chapter, a wonderful commentary narrated by the author Martha Hall Kelly’s own voice--her journey and the creation of the novel. Recommend purchasing the book as well, for reference
First Class -Highly Recommend! A heartbreakingly beautiful novel, celebrating the resilience of the human spirit, and the courage of some extraordinary women.
On a personal note:
I guess I need to move back to Atlanta, GA where I spent my entire career until a few years ago—to be surrounded by all my favorite authors, to attend all the lectures, book tours, and appearances. (the good stuff). I definitely would be making Kelly's April 28 Margaret Mitchell House Lecture appearance. To all my Atlanta friends, do not miss.
April Must Reads
Buy the Book
Lilac Girls Maps
From the Author
Calligrapher & Illustrator, Holly Hollon - Grit & Wit
About the Author
I’m a novelist and native New Englander, still pinching myself since Ballantine Books, a Penguin-Random House imprint, recently acquired Lilac Girls, the book I’ve been writing for five years.
The novel is historical fiction, based on the true story of Polish women who were imprisoned at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp and how Caroline Ferriday, an American philanthropist and former actress brings them to the U.S. I have been researching the story for over ten years and am excited beyond belief to finally share it with the world.
I’ve included some background about the writing of the novel in the next few pages.
Hope you enjoy the site and I’d love to hear from you if you have questions or anything you’d like to share. Read More