"Lilac Girls" by Martha Hall Kelly

By Martha Hall Kelly

Reviewed by Shari

ISBN 9781101883082

On a spring day in the early 2000’s Martha Hall Kelly, author of Lilac Girls (Ballantine, 2017) took a tour of Caroline Ferriday’s historical home in Bethlehem, Connecticut. She had come to visit Ferriday’s home because of an article she had read in Victoria Magazine in 1999 entitled Caroline’s Incredible Lilac’s.Toward the end of the tour, sitting on Caroline’s desk next to her typewriter was a picture of a group of smiling, middle-aged women. She was told that the photo was of a group of Polish women Caroline had brought to America in the 1950’s. These women, known as the rabbits, were of the 74 prisoners who had been experimented on while interned at the all female concentration camp, Ravensbruck during World War II.


Compelled by the article and the photo, Kelly did the work of unearthing this story, following its myriad clues all the way to Paris and Poland. Although she chose the genre of fiction to tell this astonishing tale, her characters were based on real life people including socialite and Broadway actress Caroline Ferriday, two Polish sisters, Nina and Krystyna Ivanska (their fictionalized names were Kasia and Suzanna) and the only woman doctor at Ravensbruck, Herta Oberheuser. Through dialogue of her own making Kelly hoped to evoke the distinctly differing realities of these women. Particular to the story was the bond the women prisoners formed at Ravensbruck. Kelly brought to life the story of two Polish sisters Kasia and Suzanna who endured life at the concentration camp and underwent medical experiments without their consent. Through Kelly’s prose both lyrical and rich, we come to know the plight of these sisters, their will to survive, even the questions they were forced to consider about human nature. With a passion to unearth a story that was all but forgotten, Martha Hall Kelly gave voice to so many heroes in the course of writing this book, and offers the reader the link to a bit of past that is very much worth remembering. To have not known this story personally and to know it now makes me very grateful. Much thanks to Martha Hall Kelly for her tenacity in following a curiosity all the way into its roots.

More about this book...