I woke up early this morning to finish Lilac Girls: A Novel (2016). It’s hard to sleep when someone (in your book) has just returned from a concentration camp.
This book by Martha Hall Kelly came highly recommended, and it turned out to be a fitting finale for my WWII reading binge.
From three perspectives – a German doctor, an American society girl who volunteers in the French consulate, and a Polish prisoner – the book spans the years 1939 – 1959. As expected, the three lives eventually collide. The beautiful book cover projects friendship (three women walking arm in arm) and did not prepare me for the horrors described within its pages, specifically the descriptions of the Ravensbruck concentration camp, the only major concentration camp for women in Germany.
Two of the characters are heroes no doubt, and their stories are compelling and believable.
But I want to discuss the inclusion of the perspective of the Nazi character. In this book’s case, it was the doctor at the camp who was tasked with unthinkable atrocities. I understand why an author would attempt to include this; we all wonder how and could someone be complacent in these activities? So we hope maybe this will give us some insight?? But this perspective in my most two recent reads (I also saw this used in Salt to the Sea) comes across irritating (as expected, I suppose) and unbelievable (perhaps because nothing could make us believe this is ok)? I just don’t know if this perspective can be done effectively or not. If it can be done, I have not seen it yet.
This book is based on real people; the American character was a real person as was the doctor. The characters at the camp – including one of the perspectives given – were based on the extensive research the author did.
As usual in these reads, the Author’s Notes at the end leave me in awe of all the research done to tell the story in the most truthful way possible. In this case the author brings to light a certain set of survivors from this camp who were experimented on; a story that needed to be told. As I mentioned earlier, being in this camp through her words was one of the most horrifying experiences of my WWII reading. Still it was an experience I appreciated and recommend.
Up next, I will summarize my WWII reading into a single post/list, so check back if this genre interests you!