Lilac Girls – Martha Hall Kelly – Book Review

So I’ve never read anything from Martha Hall Kelly and I wasn’t sure it would by “my type” of book based on the very flowery cover, flower titles and three ladies embraced in a friendship grip. I could feel my soul dreading the anticipated extra long descriptions, flowery attributes and adjectives and an increase in female-to-female discussions.

I was not wrong.

Based on a true story of a New York socialite who championed a group of concentration camp survivors known as the Rabbits, this acclaimed debut novel reveals a story of love, redemption, and terrible secrets that were hidden for decades.

Lilac Girls is set during World War II and tells the stories of three women around the world. The first, Caroline, is an American working in the French consulate in New York City. The next, Kaisa, is a Polish teenager working for the underground resistance who is arrested and sent to a German concentration camp. The last, Herta, is a German doctor who becomes involved with the camps.

I’ve read many books set during World War II and am both fascinated and horrified by the stories, but this is one of the only books I’ve come across that extends so far after the war. By continuing the story more than a decade after the war ended, we were able to see the effects of the war on world.

What I liked about the book:

  • The Story is linear and the perspectives are fresh.
  • The characters are believable and well rounded, you can see the amount of research the author has put in the WWII and post-bellic life and the subtle and not-so-subtle effects of a global war

What I didn’t like about the book:

  • Extremely wordy and descriptive to a point it stole away from the main plotline. Besides the long descriptions of who wore what and what colour it was, places seem to be affected too by this verbal diarrhea.
  • Take out the lengthy descriptions and you find yourself with a 120 page book that is actually pretty good. Like this, I had to trudge through something I like to call “Women’s Lit” more than often written by a recent graduate who wants to show off their flourish and normally aimed at bored mid-50s housewives. I don’t think I fit the criteria.

I’ll show you a writing sample and let me know if you agree with my rating of 1/5


As an actress I’d happily worn every species of costume imaginable, but this one was too much, for it included the sarafan, an elongating black trapeze-like dress embroidered with bright red and green stripes and a puff-sleeved white blouse adorned with crewelwork flowers. Mother also insisted we all wear the particularly embarrassing kokoshnik, the high headdress embroidered in gold and silver, set with semi-precious stones, and festooned with long strings of river pearls


Why not go? My set ate at only certain restaurants, which you could count on one hand, all within a four-block radius of the Waldorf, nowhere near the Hudson. What harm could one dinner do? We took a cab to Le Grenier, a lovely bistro on the West Side. The French ocean liners sailed up the Hudson River and docked at Fifty-first Street, so some of New York’s best little places popped up near there, like chanterelles after a good rain. Le Grenier lived in the shadow of the SS Normandie, in the attic of a former harbormaster’s building . When we exited the cab, the great ship rose high above us, deck bright with spotlights, four floors of portholes aglow. A welder at her bow sent apricot sparks into the night sky as deckhands lowered a spotlight down her side to painters on a scaffold. She made me feel small standing there, below that great, black prow, her three red smokestacks, each bigger than any of the warehouse buildings that extended down the pier. Salt hung in the end-of-summer air as Atlantic seawater met Hudson River fresh. The tables at Le Grenier were packed with a nice enough looking crowd, mostly middle-class types, including a reporter from the gala and what looked like ocean-liner passengers happy to be on terra firma. We chose a tight, shellacked wooden booth, built like something from the inside of a ship, where every inch counts. Le Grenier’s maître d’, M. Bernard, fawned over M. Rodierre, told him he’d seen The Streets of Paris three times, and shared in great detail the specifics of his own Hoboken Community Theater career.

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