Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly

Lilac Girls Martha Hall KellyLilac Girls
by Martha Hall Kelly
Pub Date: April 5, 2016

I had fully expected this book to be another disappointing novel about women in World War II, with me getting irritated at the characters and the writing and being upset that a great story was botched by the author. (Can you tell I’ve been burned before?) I had such a bad attitude starting this book I could barely get through the first chapter. And then someone on Twitter said they couldn’t put the book down, and I decided to push through my misgivings and give it another shot. AND I COULDN’T PUT IT DOWN.

The book focuses on three women at the beginning of World War II – Caroline, Kasia, and Herta – all from wildly different backgrounds, all with wildly different paths ahead of them. You have no idea how their stories work together, as one is an American socialite, one a Polish village girl, and another a German doctor. And as the stories unfold through the entirety of the war and its aftermath, and the reader starts to guess at what is going to happen, you won’t be able to put the book down, either. This is almost edge-of-your-seat reading, with a little bit of romance thrown in to not only add to the drama, but also lessen the blow of the stories being told.

The author details in her afterward about all the research she put into the book, and it shows in a very good way. It’s a difficult read in sections because these are atrocities that happened to real people, and the author does not skimp on detail. I was reading this book at a restaurant and had to fight back tears as I read. I don’t want to give away too much because I think that would lessen the impact of the book, but remembering that these are real things that happened to real people will break your heart. And it’s eerie to read about refugees in the 1930s and 40s and all the pushback from other countries and reflect on what’s going on in our world today. Even in the span of the book some people were quick to forget the horrible things done to each other.

At nearly 500 pages this book can seem a little daunting, but it is a journey worth having. You are going to cry when you read this book, but the tears are worth shedding. This is absolutely going to be one of those frequently talked about books (at least among us folks in the book industry it will be), and would make a somber but enlightening read for a book group. Or even an intense read on your own. The author provides a bibliography in the back of the book, and I’m guessing most readers are going to want to read even more about these women’s stories. This book is heartbreaking and devastating, yet also beautiful and hopeful, and well-crafted and engaging to keep you reading from beginning to end.


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