Lilac Girls Book Review

Lilac Girls: Book Review by Dinh.

4 stars


New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate but on the eve of a fateful war, her 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.

Synopsis of Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is from hardcover edition, contains 487 pages, copyright 2016, and was published by Ballantine Books.

Find Martha Hall Kelly: |Website | Facebook |Amazon Author Page |

Lilac Girls Book Review

I am so glad that we read Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly for our monthly book club.

It was a very moving historical fiction book that was based on real people and events that happened at the Nazi concentration camp for women at Ravensbrück.

This impressive debut by Kelly, will remind you of the cruelty that happened in the Nazi regime and how survival through this gruesome period can be overcome with a little help from some unexpected places.

Though the story line is sad and the fate of the of those that suffered are terrible, the book itself was not depressing. That was a relief, because I don’t tend to enjoy the negative emotions that are left behind when it’s too pessimistic.

Instead, what came through for me was the positive vibe that it left when I finished the book and when I reflected on the book as a whole. I felt hopeful for a better future, and that life however horrible it can get, can give you second chances.

Here’s what I enjoyed.

Writing Style

I enjoyed how Kelly entwined the lives of the main characters. The story is told with narratives from the three main characters: Caroline, Kasia and Herta.

It was definitely more interesting and engaging for the reader to have these three perspectives as opposed to just one viewpoint.

The contrasting character’s histories  allowed me to get more insight in the the women’s experiences and held my attention.

I also liked how Lilac Girls was a result of considerable research that centered on Ravensbrück concentration camp for women, Caroline Ferriday’s letters, testimonies from the Nuremberg Doctors Trial, and testimonies of Ravensbruck survivors.

Kelly’s research provided an authentic feel to the book which I appreciated.

Lilac Girls

Interesting Characters

  • Caroline

Of the three main characters, I would say that Caroline Ferriday intrigued me the most. Caroline character is based on the real Caroline Ferriday, a philanthropist.

What fascinates me about Caroline is the transformation that she makes in Lilac Girls.

Caroline starts off at the beginning of the book as a New York City socialite and by the end of the book she is this awesome activist who helps women survivors of World War II.

There’s much to admire on how Caroline started off with sending care packages to French orphans and how she championed the “Rabbits” by the end.

  • Kasia

I also liked Kasia, whose character was inspired by a real women (Nina Ivanska) who was a concentration camp prisoner, and who was also subjected to the atrocious medical experiments that were performed at Ravensbrück.

I admired Kasia qualities as a strong and resourceful Polish woman. She initially got involved in with Polish resistance, and then later on in Ravensbrück, she resourcefully devised a plan to send messages home to her father to let him know what was happening in the camp. I loved that she wrote a coded letter with urine!

  • Herta

Herta was a German doctor who was ambitious to get ahead and jumped on the opportunity to work for the Nazis. Though, we get an insight of Herta’s history, what was pervasive was her ambition. She wanted to be at the top in the male dominated Nazi regime no matter what.

Being a doctor she was suppose to help the sick but instead she became the murderer, killing the sick and performing medical experiment on the prisoners.

Lilac Girls Book


Lilac Girls has many themes : war, love, bravery, friendship, survival, political resistance, human rights etc.

One theme that moved me the most of the theme of female friendship. The camaraderie among the women in Ravensbrück was something surprising and remarkable I found. In the midst of this terrifying experience, women were able to bond and support each other.

I found it uplifting that when there was a hunt for the rabbits in Ravensbrück, the other prisoners shielded the ‘Rabbits’ by helping to hide them and giving them different ID numbers to evade the Nazi doctors.

Satisfying Ending

I enjoyed the ending immensely. I loved how it all came together and the lives of those entwined are explained.

I was expecting more of a sad ending because of the subject matter, but Kelly surprised me with a positive message and it was hopeful.

Lilac Girls Novel By Martha Hall Kelly

What Was Lacking?

The story is told through the three main characters point of view but Kelly explored Kasia and Caroline’s perspective more.

I enjoyed the perspectives, but wanted to find out more about what was going on in Herta’s mind. I wanted to understand how she lived with herself for what she was doing daily at Ravensbrück. She killed women by giving them lethal injections and did unethical atrocious medical experiments on the women.

The three characters have the same amount of chapters in part 1 of the book but by part three, the emphasis was more on Kasia and less on Caroline and nothing on Herta.

This deliberate omission of Herta in the book may well be that Kelly wanted to keep the book at a reasonable length. Or perhaps Kelly wanted Kasia story to have more impact by omitting Herta’s story.

My Final Thoughts:

 I enjoy reading historical fiction that is based on real people and events.

This was a holocaust story and although I was expecting it to be horrific and depressing, I found that it was not depressing at all. Kelly passed the challenge of making us aware of the atrocities of the past and reminding us that we can be heros too, just like Caroline and Kasia.

This deeply moving and well written book is a must read for historical fiction fans.

Get Lilac Girls here!

Check out Lilac Girls Discussion Questions!

13 thoughts on “Lilac Girls Book Review

  1. Women put in difficult situations develop their strength or embrace their weakness … this story sounds like they overcame horrific trials to become their inner self. Thanks for a remarkable review as I wouldn’t think it would have a satisfying ending.

    Linda B

  2. Hmm… it sounds like this one was an emotional one, but it was told in such a way that gave you good vibes in the end. Which is a remarkable feat to be able to achieve when handling such a tough topic. I think I can understand why the author had an unbalanced amount of perspectives told… it may be because some came easier to her to write than others. All in all, I am glad you enjoyed this book.

    1. Hi Olivia!
      I love to admire heroines but also I like to get an understanding of the evil character as well. I guess making the heroines shine it made for a more enjoyable read?

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  3. It takes a master storyteller to take a book about one of the most odious of crimes and give it an uplifting feel. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I’ve read my one Holocaust book for the year–The Mischling.

    1. Hi Lonna!
      I think Kelly did a great job in telling the story too and enjoyed that it didn’t make me depressed at the end of it.
      LOL, do you only read one Holocaust book for the year? I don’t have a set agenda but tend to read what mood I am in. 🙂

  4. I really do not read enough historical fiction books. It’s really good to hear that you got so many positive feelings from reading a book like this. I usually go into novels that take places during WWII expecting to be emotionally wrung out. I’m glad this one also had a satisfying ending. Great review. So glad to be your Comment Challenge partner through the month of June!

    1. Hello Alicia!
      I am so glad that we are partners for the Comment Challenge as well.

      I feel I don’t read enough historical fiction either. I would love to read more books in general. I do go through phases in reading.

      Not all historical fiction involving WWI or WWII are emotionally draining. You should check out All The Light We Cannot See. That was also a great book and not at all depressing.

  5. The more of your pieces I read, one theme always ring true. There is an unquenchable love for reading on yours part. This carries over in your reviews whether positive or negative.

    In this case, you laid the premise of a ‘pleasing’ holocaust story while giving us a tantalizing quick overview on Kasia, Caroline, and Herta characters leaving the interested reader with the urge to find out more!

    Here is my take on Herta based on your review: She wanted to be on top in a male dominated world. Thus, she chooses the by ‘any means necessary route’ and was willing to live with the consequences. The world is full of many individuals likened to her. In my opinion, this adds some realism to her character and gives your review even more credibility.

    I haven’t done too much book reading lately. However, reading your book reviews is pointing me in that direction. Thanks for another well put together and enjoyable review. Keep them coming! Love it!

    1. Hi Burt!
      Lovely to hear from you again. 🙂

      If you are pushing for time I suggest you check out the audio book for Lilac Girls. That may ease you back into reading and reading more.

      I do love to read now. It has not always been that way. I spent years and years reading text books and had no time for reading just for leisure. Now I have all my degrees out of the way I can enjoy reading to my hearts desire. 🙂

  6. The omission of much of Herta’s story may have been a mark of respect for the people who suffered – we do not need to know what the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity were thinking, or humanise people who didn’t show the same courtesy to others; they aren’t as important as the lives they took and/or changed forever. (Plus, I certainly wouldn’t want to write from their perspective! *shudders*)

    Great review 🙂

    1. Hi Cee Arr!
      I may ask Kelly that question on Goodreads. It may be out of respect.
      I was thinking it more heroines vs. villain. Though I admire Caroline and Kasia, I would have loved to hate Herta more…
      Perhaps it would have made the book too dark as well if we had more of Herta’s point of view.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective!

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