Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

While we were at the airport, waiting to go to Lake Tahoe during the winter holidays, my husband suggested that he buy a book for me. I accused him of being out of touch with my likes and dislikes (especially since I ended up returning his recent gift to me, a harmless cardigan, back to the store). On a dare, he bought me Lilac Girls. He was confident I would like it.

I hesitated to read the book because I had not heard of the author. But as the pages unfolded, I was drawn into the semi-fictional world created by Martha Hall Kelly. I didn’t think her writing style was exceptional. It was simple. But what kept me hooked was the plot.

It’s the story of three woman, set in the backdrop of the Second World War–a Polish teenager who was taken to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, a German doctor who performed gruesome experiments on young girls at the camp, and a New York socialite who works tirelessly for children and women affected by the war.

I thought that the author handled the description of horrible events like torture and rape in a delicate and sensible manner. Without making her writing explicit, she was able to convey pain and suffering in a way that elicited empathy for the characters. She also managed to depict how our lives can change instantly by factors we have no control over. National and world events impact our everyday activities and change our destiny.

I was glad that this period drama had a happy ending because the last thing I wanted to do was to wallow in sorrow while on a family vacation. Having said that, I wondered if there could ever be a happy ending for human beings who endure extraordinary trauma. The trauma might end, but are they able fully recover from it? Do they ever get back to living normal lives? Those were some of the questions the book subtly plants in the minds of the readers.

My husband was right about this book. I did enjoy reading it. Lilac Girls was a reminder, to me, to not take the present for granted. I enjoyed watching my son learn to ski. I cherished the image of my husband putting on his best father-self. I basked in the sunshine of smiles and in the warmth of love, knowing that this can all change in an instant, forever.

(This article was originally posted on the author’s Facebook page on January 11, 2018).

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