Review: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

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I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This book will be released April 5th, 2016. Thank you to NetGalley, Ballantine Publishers and Martha Hall Kelly for the opportunity.

Lilac Girls follows the story of three different women taking place in the years directly before, during and after WW2. Caroline Ferriday is a New York socialite working as a volunteer with the French consulate assisting French orphanages and eventually helping Polish concentration camp survivors. Kasia Kuzmerick is a young Polish woman who is arrested as a political prisoner and sent to Ravensbruck, the Nazi’s only all female concentration camp. Then there is Herta Oberheuser, a German doctor working for the Nazi regime at Ravensbruck, conducting heinous medical experiments on the women imprisioned there.

This book had so much potential and fell flat rather quickly for me. It’s separated into three different parts and I ended up enjoying Part Three the most. Sadly, Part One had so many flaws to me that I felt myself too detached from the characters to fully immerse myself in the story. Part One felt terribly rushed…entire weeks and months would pass in a matter of a sentence leaving me feeling somewhat lost.

I’ve read quite a few Historical Fiction books that specifically take place in this time period and this one sadly doesn’t hold a candle to other, better written books about the subject. Sadly, I’ve never read a single story that highlights Ravensbruck and the atrocities that took place there….so this book could have been great in that respect. I will say that the one thing I did like about this story is that it did bring the “Rabbits of Ravensbruck” to my attention and I did learn something new. The good of this book, sadly ends there as there’s just too much that I didn’t like about the way this book was written.

For starters… it’s reads too little like good Historical Fiction and too much like Chick-Lit to me. The dialog (especially in Part One) was lacking and ended up making me feel like I was witnessing a soap opera instead of real life accounts of historical events. For example, Kasia’s perspective in Part One reads very much like a child playing a role in an imaginary life. “I’m on a mission!” or “I now work for the underground!” didn’t ring authentic to me at all. Caroline’s chapters focused too much on her socialite life; what she and others were wearing, famous people who came to events, etc… But the parts of her chapters that focused on the help and good she accomplished were good. The romance that is written in for her was just not believable to me at all and I found it to ultimately be a distraction from the rest of the story. And then we have the very dramatic, soap opera-ish endings to each chapter…it became predictable and quite tedious after a while.

I also didn’t care for the chapters in Herta Oberheuser’s perspective. Even though she was a very real person and had a big part in the story and lives of the camp prisoners…I felt that giving her an almost equal voice sort of felt like the author was asking us, the reader, to almost sympathize with Herta and understand her perspective. Her Chapters were all very frustrating to me because I felt like her monstrosities were trying to be rationalized somehow.

In the Author’s Notes at the end of the novel, we learn that while certain parts of this story are based off of actual events and people, many of the parts are fictionalized by the author. Caroline Ferriday and Herta Oberheuser are both very real people while Kasia is based off of a culmination of many other first person accounts of concentration camp survivor stories. Interestingly enough, the parts that I didn’t like at all in the book turned out to be the parts that the author took creative liberty with writing. The funny thing is…in her notes, I felt like the author summarized her initial interest in this story and her subsequent research rather well and I felt, for the first time, engaged in what she had to say. I think if the author would have just stuck to telling the story of Ravensbruck and it’s survivors as well as sticking to the actual history of Caroline Ferriday’s story while leaving out all of the added extra dramatics, it could have been an excellent book.

My Rating: 2/5 Stars

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