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review 2016-08-26 21:13
Somewhat imbalanced depth but overall intersting
Lilac Girls - Martha Hall Kelly

From the start this novel pulled me in, as I was intrigued by the format of three different points of view of women living during Hitlers reign in the US, Poland and Germany. It shows how these women navigated the trying political times, one as a debutante, one as a surgical doctor, and another as a prisoner at the dreaded Ravensbruck concentration camp. It did deliver, as I was pulled into different directions by these women, however I feel the pov's became imbalanced midway through.


Kasia and Herta's lives are so intrisically linked here, with Herta being an unwilling (at first) surgeon charged with performing medical experiments on Kasia and many other "rabbits" of Ravensbruck. Their pov's are so dependent on one another, and their paths are so dark, that when we jump to Caroline's high-society life in NYC, it became jarring and made me lose sympathy for this character in particular. I couldn't stop thinking "I just watched Kasia experience some true physical and emotional horrors, and I have a hard time feeling bad that your boyfriend is married, ok?" Although I did enjoy the character of Paul, and felt he was good for Caroline throughout, the relationship between them overshadowed a lot of what was so fascinating about this woman, particularly the magnitude of her altruistic work long after the last bomb fell.


One thing this book particularly succeeded in was making me realize how privileged in my life I am, sitting here, reading a book, searching for Pokemon, while genocide occurs in countries all over the world. Syrians are trying to escape their circumstances and being turned away, just like so many I am reading about in this book, and I'm here thinking "oh man I hope someone does something about that!" Which I recognize was exactly what those in Caroline's pov were doing. "Here have a check, a pity about Germany etc, where to for brunch?"


Something I found lacking was enough transition from unwilling doctor to what Herta became at the end, someone that saw it as "just doing her job." She eventually doesn't appear to see anything wrong with her actions, choosing her career prospects over her humanity, and I didn't get to follow her on that journey, even having access to her pov for much of the book. I recognize the narrative is fairly long, so adding much more to include greater depth could have made it gargantuan, but having all the pov's almost requires it.


It's a tricky thing, fictional accounts based on real people (Herta and Caroline in particular). You can get so much motivation and things from researching their letters, correspondence, journals, news articles, but how much personality/experiences/emotions can one add before you lose track of the people that lived, instead of what you're creating? This isn't a question I can answer, but I do wish the emotional experiences had balanced out better, as I feel it would have given me a greater connection to all.


As this was an audiobook, I must include how I felt about the narration. I think the right women were chosen to read these roles, as they all embodied Caroline, Herta, and Kasia with excellent grasps of the time period, language, culture, and personality.


Overall, I am glad I read this, even if just to learn something about these women I wasn't aware existed in history. It made me want to learn more about them, which I believe was the goal of the author. On that note, she succeeded. Those interested in similarly fictional accounts of Ravensbruck and women during WWII, be sure to also check out Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein.

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review 2016-04-14 06:40
Lilac Girls
Lilac Girls - Martha Hall Kelly

By: Martha Hall Kelly

ISBN: 9781101883075

Publisher: Random House

Publication Date: 4/5/2016

Format: Hardcover 

My Rating: 5 Stars 


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.

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—hats off to the Calligrapher & Illustrator, Holly Hollon- Grit & Wit.

Thank you Martha Hall Kelly, for creating a memorable experience for readers--your passion is reflected throughout each page of the book and website.


Watch Book Trailer  


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 ofKristin 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 heartbreaking 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.


Source: www.judithdcollinsconsulting.com/#!Lilac-Girls/cmoa/570422580cf2efb3747cd598
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review 2016-03-22 23:34
So realistically written, it's painful to read
Lilac Girls - Martha Hall Kelly

Don’t let the pretty cover fool you.  This is a historical novel about the atrocious experiments performed on women at Ravensbruck in Germany during WWII.  It makes for a very painful read but unfortunately it’s a story that needs to be shared time and time again.  This book is based on fact which makes it all the more horrifying.  While I have read articles about this camp before, I’ve never read a historical novel centered on this concentration camp for women.


There are three main characters that this book tells the stories of.  Caroline Ferriday (a real-life person) works tirelessly for the French consulate in the US.  She is a selfless woman who spends most of her time doing charity work, including ripping up her beautiful silk and satin costumes from her time as an actress to sew clothing for French orphans.  There’s a love story included for Caroline with Paul Rodierre, a handsome married actor.  This part of the story is not based on fact and I do wish the author had chosen not to include it.  The only reason I can see that she did was to possibly fill in a more complete storyline for Caroline but it’s the only part that just doesn’t ring true and can sometimes be annoying.  This love triangle is one of the reason I’m not giving this book 5 stars, which it otherwise deserves.


Kasia Kuzmerick (not a real-life person), is a Polish teenager who gets pulled into the underground resistance movement with devastating consequences.  Her story is a tragic one and is what makes this book such a painful read.


Then there’s Herta Oberheuser, a German doctor (also a real-life person).  I’ve read plenty about Herta before reading this book and I do believe that the writer treats her more sympathetically than she should have.  The author presents her as a young doctor who is trying to find her place in a world of men and is offered a position at Ravensbruck.  Although she is at first resistant to killing healthy people, she stays for the good pay.  As a fellow doctor tells her, “if we don’t do it, they’ll only get someone else to do it” and “it’s for the good of Germany”.  There really isn’t enough fleshing out of this character’s transformation from reluctant to insensitive.  Also, the author neglects to mention some of the atrocities on children performed by this doctor and only concentrates on the “rabbit” experiments and one elderly woman.  I don’t feel there was enough emphasis on the monster this particular doctor was.


What I particularly liked about this book was the sisterly love and camaraderie between these women prisoners.  As always during horrendous times when the blackness of human nature is prevalent, there are always those whose goodness shine through.  I also liked that this book didn’t stop with the end of the war but continued to show what happens to each of the characters for years afterwards and the continuing impact of the events of Ravensbruck on them.


This was a very emotional, difficult read for me.  The book is a well written debut.  Recommended.


This book was given to me by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.

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review 2015-11-03 07:37
Le donne di Ravensbrück - Testimonianze di deportate politiche italiane - Anna Maria Bruzzone,Lidia Beccaria Rolfi

Lidia Beccaria Rolfi, Bianca Paganini Mori, Livia Borsi, le sorelle Lina e Nella Baroncini raccontano la loro esperienza.
A Ravensbrück la giornata inizia presto, alle 3 e mezzo circa. La sirena urla. Anche le guardiane urlano. Impartiscono ordini che le prigioniere di tutte le nazionalità imparano subito: «Schnell… rasch… Ruhe… los…!». È l’ora dell’appello. Tutte sull’attenti. Sotto la pioggia. Sotto la neve. Schiaffeggiate dal vento e dalle parole. All’appello si sta zitte, si rimane immobili. È vietato battere i piedi per scaldarsi. È vietato il contatto con la compagna per sostenersi. Passata mezz’ora “il cervello si vuola, le gambe si gonfiano, i piedi fanno male”. Si cerca soltanto di non crollare.
Quando arriva l’Aufseherin inizia la conta e il controllo. Le persone presenti devono corrispondere esattamente a ciò che è dichiarato dall’ufficio politico e dai registri dell’anagrafe. Se non corrisponde – e sbagliare non è poi così difficile – la popolazione concentrazionaria rimane in piedi per ore fino a quando i conti tornano.
Quello che oggi è lecito, può essere proibito domani. Si punisce una donna perché siede sulla tazza del gabinetto e il giorno successivo se ne punisce un’altra perché è salita sulla tazza coi piedi come comandato il giorno prima.
Si picchia una deportata che si lavava vestita, e si schiaffeggia quella che si è appena svestita per lavarsi.
È vietato pregare, entrare in un blocco che non sia il proprio. È vietato riunirsi in gruppo, cantare, conversare, sporcare la latrina, stendere la biancheria, frugare nei bidoni dell’immondizia.
“Tutto in teoria è proibito e tutto è passibile di punizione”.
Poi ci sono le botte, il lavoro inutile e quello forzato, le torture, gli esperimenti “medici”, gli aborti, la soppressione dei neonati.
Possiamo immaginare cosa può essere la vita quotidiana a Ravensbrück? No, non possiamo immaginarlo, perché all’inferno vissuto dalle donne di Ravensbrück nemmeno la più perversa delle fantasie si può avvicinare.


”Il mondo concentrazionario è un pianeta su cui sono approdati milioni di persone; alcune sono ridiscese nel mondo dei vivi, ma i vivi non possono credere a quello che i superstiti hanno visto”.


Raccontare diventa difficile, talvolta impossibile. Chi ascolta guarda con incredulità, col dubbio che a parlare sia una pazza. Qualcuno ascolta per un istante poi prega di cambiare discorso. Perché certe cose “non si possono sentire”, “fa troppa pena”. E il muro si leva. Il dolore rimane lì, a serrare cuore e gola.


Le testimonianze delle “ridiscese nel mondo dei vivi” sono un’eredità che non possiamo rifiutare. È nostro dovere non dimenticare. È nostro dovere fare in modo che nemmeno gli altri scordino.

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review 2015-10-16 01:36
Jewish Women Prisoners of Ravensbruck - Judith Buber Agassi

Maggio 1939. A Ravensbrück sorgeva – unico nel suo genere – un Lager destinato alle donne.

Judith Buber Agassi, storica e sociologa (sua madre, Margarete, fu internata proprio a Ravensbrück per cinque anni) insieme a un team di ricercatori, hanno ricomposto – grazie alle testimonianze di 138 sopravvissute intervistate, ai documenti conservati negli archivi in Germania, Israele e Stati Uniti, alle liste di trasporto e di decessi – un pezzo di Storia della Shoah meno noto, quello delle oltre 16.000 ebree, fra donne, ragazze e bambini che hanno vissuto l’orrore del campo di Ravensbrück.

Diviso in cinque parti, il libro ripercorre i sei anni di esistenza del campo di Ravensbrück e la sorte delle tante ebree di età, provenienza, credo, estrazione sociale, istruzione e professione differenti, vittime della follia nazista.

Le donne sopravvissute a Ravensbrück raccontano storie di crudeltà e sadismo inimmaginabili da parte di guardiane e guardie SS, e di alcuni dei loro aiutanti non tedeschi.

Frammenti di vita ancora vivi, ricordi dolorosi come le umiliazioni subite non solo dalle SS, ma anche da una parte della popolazione civile tedesca.

Ed ecco, alle guardiane che accompagnano a scudisciate le prigioniere, s’affiancano cittadini tedeschi che sputano su queste ultime mentre camminano, oramai ombre di se stesse, per le strade delle cittadine adiacenti al campo. In contrapposizione, si riferiscono casi che mostrano un lato più umano, come quello degli agricoltori che gettano patate oltre il recinto del piccolo campo di Türkheim nel giorno di Pasqua del 1945 o di persone che offrono patate alle deportate durante la marcia della morte da Auschwitz.

E ancora, tedeschi che scagliano pietre contro le donne sfinite dalla fame durante una marcia di evacuazione da un campo di lavoro e altri che invece buttano patate.

Vissuti che scatenano sentimenti contrastanti. Così, c’è chi accoglie il bombardamento degli Alleati sulle città tedesche e la sofferenza della popolazione civile tedesca come condanna all’intero popolo tedesco identificato come il male, e chi afferma di non aver provato alcuna gioia di vendetta assistendo alla fuga di migliaia di civili tedeschi miserabili alla fine della guerra.

Halina Nelken, per esempio, descrive la sua lotta col problema della moralità della vendetta, e spiega: “Migliaia di volte avevamo sognato la vendetta per il male enorme commesso dai tedeschi, e io non ero riuscita a vendicare nulla. Improvvisamente ho compreso che nessuna vendetta era adeguata, nemmeno una morte per una morte. Non potevo farlo, non potevo! Non volevo essere il loro giudice. Farli vivere con la loro coscienza sporca. Io ne avevo abbastanza di sangue, cadaveri e odio”.


Scritto importante. Le testimonianze rafforzano il lavoro di Judith Buber Agassi aggiungendo quel senso di umanità, seppur terribilmente doloroso, all’accurato e meticoloso succedersi di date, informazioni, grafici, diagrammi, mappe, immagini.

E proprio la presenza della memoria di chi ha potuto raccontare fa sì che il libro di Judith non sia solo una successione distaccata dei fatti, ma ponga al centro dell’opera la ricerca per dare la dignità di un’identità - una memoria - a migliaia di donne.


P.S. Pubblicato da Texas Tech University Press nel 2014, spero che – prima o poi – venga tradotto in italiano.


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