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There’s not much I can say about Martha Hall Kelly’s blockbuster smash novel, Lilac Girls, that hasn’t already been said by 1,000 other historical fiction fans. The book is wonderful, plain and simple.
Told from three points of view—like a lot of popular historical fiction right now—Lilac Girls tells the story of a New York socialite and dedicated philanthropist, a concentration camp prisoner and a doctor working at the camp. Martha Hall Kelly weaves a spiderweb of delicious details and a heartbreaking plot.
It’s a busy book with a lot going on but never to the point of confusion. I appreciated that the author allowed her characters to be very flawed, especially the prisoner. She could have easily painted Kasia as the perfect victim, but she decided to be more realistic about the long-lasting effects of life at a concentration camp.
I’m a history nerd but I’d be the first one to admit that the World Wars are not my strong suit. Like many, I’m sure, I was under the impression that everything was right as rain after WWII ended. Not so. I think including this important fact was incredibly important for a historical fiction novel. Life didn’t just go back to how it was. I’m ashamed to say I had no idea.
Even more impressive is that the characters are based on real people—always a risk but extremely well-executed in this case. It’s fantastically clear that Kelly did a tremendous amount of research for this triumph of a novel.