May 8, 2016

Fresh from the Bookshelf: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly {Book Review}

I'm a sucker for WW2 fiction. That's an area that I can never read enough because I just love that era. I picked Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly to review because it claims to be inspired by a real life WW2 heroine, which adds that much more to its appeal.

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About the Book

Lilac Girls is the debut novel by Martha Hall Kelly, and has rapidly become a New York Bestseller. Inspired by a real life WW2 heroine's story, the novel follows the stories of three young women Caroline (a NY socialiate working for the French consoulate ), Kasia (a Polish teenager who is a courier for the resistance), and Herta (an ambitious young female German doctor). As things explode with the invasion of Poland, the girls are headed for a collision course that will bring their lives together when Kasia is sent to Ravensbruck-the notorious
female-only concentration camp. The tragedy and triumph of their stories cross continents--from New York to Paris, and Germany to Poland--as a story unfolds of love, redemption, and terrible secrets hidden away for decades.

My Thoughts

I went into this book, eager to experience the story. Right away I noticed that it was written in the form of a narrative, jumping from character to character with each chapter. I think this is good for a period novel because it helps you keep in mind what each character is going through in their part of the world. The author uses very colorful expressions and thoughts to capture the mind's eye which I appreciate. I love rich text like that. 

The dialogue was very appropriate to the time period, as were the descriptions of the locations for each characters environment. I could feel the frantic squalor of the French embassy, the damp fear ridden landscape of occupied Poland, and the stark white halls splashed with the spidery swastika of Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, some of the scenes were...too real.

And here is where I am going to say something I have only said once or twice before...
I had to stop reading the book. 

I, who never like to admit defeat, could not finish this book. I made it about 1/3 in. But the word pictures became more lurid, raw, disturbing in their realism. The author is good--oh she's good, for in her carefully selected descriptions--I was there. And honestly, I didn't WANT to be there. For instance, I don't like reading about sex even between a married couple. But sex between an uncle and his niece in the back of a butcher shop? Absolutely not. Throw in vivid descriptions of executions by Nazi invaders, and it was as good as having a movie in my mind. I am a visual reader and I appreciate a good writer who can make it come to life. But THESE were not scenes I wanted in my head. And language. Foul language that I don't say, much less enjoy reading or hearing. 

And so I stopped. I haven't picked the book up since. Didn't even finish the chapter. The Uncle/niece scene crossed the line for me. I don't care how real or based on a true story. It's not my cup of tea. 

And so, I can't tell you what happens. I have heard there is redemption at the end. I have heard that it "gets better". But I can't confirm that. 
I have to give Lilac Girls two stars, because Martha Hall Kelly is a magnificent writer. She's CLEARLY talented, otherwise, I wouldn't be so disturbed in her writing. But I cannot give more than this. I cannot recommend this book with a clear conscience, because I know a lot of my readers would be as disturbed as I was. I do know that some of you might seek this book out to know "the rest of the story" because what I have shared may not phase you personally. If you finish the book, could come back and comment with your thoughts?

Lilac Girls 
by Martha Hall Kelly
ISBN # 978-1101883075
Available as Kindle and Hardbound
Professional Reader