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Lilac Girls
Cover of Lilac Girls
Lilac Girls
A Novel
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
  • For readers of The Nightingale and Sarah's Key, inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this remarkable debut novel reveals the power of unsung women to change history in their quest for love, freedom, and second chances.
    New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline's world is forever changed when Hitler's army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.
    An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.
    For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.
    The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.
    USA Today "New and Noteworthy" Book • LibraryReads Top Ten Pick
    "Harrowing . . . Lilac illuminates."People
    "A compelling, page-turning narrative . . . Lilac Girls falls squarely into the groundbreaking category of fiction that re-examines history from a fresh, female point of view. It's smart, thoughtful and also just an old-fashioned good read."Fort Worth Star-Telegram
    "A powerful story for readers everywhere . . . Martha Hall Kelly has brought readers a firsthand glimpse into one of history's most frightening memories. A novel that brings to life what these women and many others suffered. . . . I was moved to tears."San Francisco Book Review
    "Extremely moving and memorable . . . This impressive debut should appeal strongly to historical fiction readers and to book clubs that adored Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale and Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See."Library Journal (starred review)
    "[A] compelling first novel . . . This is a page-turner demonstrating the tests and triumphs civilians faced during war, complemented by Kelly's vivid depiction of history and excellent characters."Publishers Weekly
    "Kelly vividly re-creates the world of Ravensbrück."Kirkus Reviews

    "Inspired by actual events and real people, Martha Hall Kelly has woven together the stories of three women during World War II that reveal the bravery, cowardice, and cruelty of those days. This is a part of history—women's history—that should never be forgotten."—Lisa See, New York Times bestselling author of China Dolls
    "Profound, unsettling, and thoroughly . . . the best book I've read all year."—Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
    From the Hardcover edition.
  • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
  • For readers of The Nightingale and Sarah's Key, inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this remarkable debut novel reveals the power of unsung women to change history in their quest for love, freedom, and second chances.
    New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline's world is forever changed when Hitler's army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.
    An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.
    For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.
    The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.
    USA Today "New and Noteworthy" Book • LibraryReads Top Ten Pick
    "Harrowing . . . Lilac illuminates."People
    "A compelling, page-turning narrative . . . Lilac Girls falls squarely into the groundbreaking category of fiction that re-examines history from a fresh, female point of view. It's smart, thoughtful and also just an old-fashioned good read."Fort Worth Star-Telegram
    "A powerful story for readers everywhere . . . Martha Hall Kelly has brought readers a firsthand glimpse into one of history's most frightening memories. A novel that brings to life what these women and many others suffered. . . . I was moved to tears."San Francisco Book Review
    "Extremely moving and memorable . . . This impressive debut should appeal strongly to historical fiction readers and to book clubs that adored Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale and Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See."Library Journal (starred review)
    "[A] compelling first novel . . . This is a page-turner demonstrating the tests and triumphs civilians faced during war, complemented by Kelly's vivid depiction of history and excellent characters."Publishers Weekly
    "Kelly vividly re-creates the world of Ravensbrück."Kirkus Reviews

    "Inspired by actual events and real people, Martha Hall Kelly has woven together the stories of three women during World War II that reveal the bravery, cowardice, and cruelty of those days. This is a part of history—women's history—that should never be forgotten."—Lisa See, New York Times bestselling author of China Dolls
    "Profound, unsettling, and thoroughly . . . the best book I've read all year."—Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
    From the Hardcover edition.
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    Excerpts-
    • Chapter 1

      Caroline

      September 1939

      If I'd known I was about to meet the man who'd shatter me like bone china on terra-cotta, I would have slept in. Instead, I roused our florist, Mr. Sitwell, from his bed to make a boutonnière. My first consulate gala was no time to stand on ceremony.

      I joined the riptide of the great unwashed moving up Fifth Avenue. Men in gray-felted fedoras pushed by me, the morning papers in their attachés bearing the last benign headlines of the decade. There was no storm gathering in the east that day, no portent of things to come. The only ominous sign from the direction of Europe was the scent of slack water wafting off the East River.

      As I neared our building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-ninth Street, I felt Roger watching from the window above. He'd fired people for a lot less than being twenty minutes late, but the one time of year the New York elite opened their wallets and pretended they cared about France was no time for skimpy boutonnières.

      I turned at the corner, the morning sun alive in the gold-leaf letters chiseled in the cornerstone: la maison française. The French Building, home to the French Consulate, stood side by side with the British Empire Building, facing Fifth Avenue, part of Rockefeller Center, Junior Rockefeller's new complex of granite and limestone. Many foreign consulates kept offices there then, resulting in a great stew of international diplomacy.

      "All the way to the back and face the front," said Cuddy, our elevator operator.

      Mr. Rockefeller handpicked the elevator boys, screening for manners and good looks. Cuddy was heavy on the looks, though his hair was already salt-and-peppered, his body in a hurry to age.

      Cuddy fixed his gaze on the illuminated numbers above the doors. "You got a crowd up there today, Miss Ferriday. Pia said there's two new boats in."

      "Delightful," I said.

      Cuddy brushed something off the sleeve of his navy-blue uniform jacket. "Another late one tonight?"

      For the fastest elevators in the world, ours still took forever. "I'll be gone by five. Gala tonight."

      I loved my job. Grandmother Woolsey had started the work tradition in our family, nursing soldiers on the battlefield at Gettysburg. But my volunteer post as head of family assistance for the French Consulate wasn't work really. Loving all things French was simply genetic for me. My father may have been half-Irish, but his heart belonged to France. Plus, Mother had inherited an apartment in Paris, where we spent every August, so I felt at home there.

      The elevator stopped. Even through the closed doors, we could hear a terrific din of raised voices. A shiver ran through me.

      "Third floor," Cuddy called out. "French Consulate. Watch your--"

      Once the doors parted, the noise overpowered all polite speech. The hallway outside our reception area was packed so tightly with people one could scarcely step through. Both the Normandie and the Ile de France, two of France's premier ocean liners, had landed that morning in New York Harbor, packed with wealthy passengers fleeing the uncertainty in France. Once the all-clear horn signaled and they were free to disembark, the ships' elite streamed to the consulate to iron out visa problems and other sticky issues.

      I squeezed into the smoky reception area, past ladies in Paris's newest day dresses who stood gossiping in a lovely cloud of Arpège, the sea spray still in their hair. The people in this group were accustomed to being shadowed by a butler with a crystal ashtray and a champagne flute. Bellboys in scarlet jackets from the Normandie went toe-to-toe with their...

    About the Author-
    • Martha Hall Kelly is a native New Englander, now living in Atlanta, Georgia, where she's writing the prequel to Lilac Girls. This is her first novel.

    Reviews-
    • Publisher's Weekly

      February 15, 2016
      Kelly’s compelling first novel follows three women through the course of World War II and beyond. Caroline, a wealthy New Yorker, volunteers at the French consulate in New York, assisting refugees and raising funds. She meets Paul, a charming, married French actor, and sparks fly. Kasia, a young woman living in Poland during the Nazi invasion, works for the resistance until she is captured and sent to Ravensbruck, the women’s concentration camp. There, she encounters Herta, a doctor hired to help execute inmates and perform experiments. Though her mother is Herta’s trusted assistant, and even saved a camp guard’s life, Kasia is operated on, joining the “Rabbits,” inmates deformed from their surgeries. Meanwhile, Caroline loses touch with Paul when he returns to France to find his wife, and she finds herself tasked with keeping track of the growing concentration camp network for the consulate, learned from British intelligence. After the war, she travels to France to assist in locating missing people, where she learns about the Rabbits, including Kasia, who is struggling to let go of her anger and move on with her life. Despite some horrific scenes, this is a page-turner demonstrating the tests and triumphs civilians faced during war, complemented by Kelly’s vivid depiction of history and excellent characters. Agent: Alexandra Machinist, ICM Partners.

    • Kirkus

      February 1, 2016
      Kelly's three narrators are based on actual people whose destinies converged in or around Ravensbruck, Hitler's concentration camp for women. It's 1939: Hitler has invaded Poland, and although few suspect it, France is next. Caroline, a former debutante who, at 37, appears to have missed her chance for marriage, does charity work at the French Consulate in Manhattan. Requests for visas accelerate, as does demand for the care packages Caroline sends overseas. When her married would-be lover, Paul, leaves New York for Paris shortly before the Germans march in, Caroline fears the worst. Kasia, a former Girl Guide, joins an underground youth group after the Nazis occupy her hometown of Lublin, Poland. Soon she's arrested, along with her mother and sister, Zuzanna, a medical student. The women are sent to Ravensbruck, a concentration camp whose mission is to work the prisoners to death--those, that is, who aren't terminated immediately upon arrival. (A crude form of lethal injection is used, as the Nazis are still experimenting with more efficient means of mass murder.) Kasia watches in horror as one of her former teachers is fatally mauled by a dog set on her by Binz, the head guard. Young physician Herta, the third narrator, is a loyal German and Nazi. Although not happy about Hitler's edict that women doctors cannot be surgeons, she's less than upset when her father's Jewish doctor is deported. She accepts a post at Ravensbruck, where her Hippocratic oath is immediately compromised: her first duty is to dispatch an elderly prisoner. Her eagerness to scrub in quickly overcomes any remaining scruples as Herta conducts grisly surgical "experiments" on inmates, including Kasia. The women, many permanently maimed, who undergo these "studies" become known as the "Rabbits." Kelly vividly re-creates the world of Ravensbruck but is less successful integrating the wartime experience of Caroline, whose involvement with the surviving Rabbits comes very late. In this mashup of two war novels, the more conventional New York story pales by comparison.

      COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

    • Library Journal

      Starred review from April 1, 2016

      During World War II Polish teenager Kasia Kuzmerick's decision to join the Resistance movement in her hometown results in her being exiled to the brutal Nazi concentration camp of Ravensbruck. There she becomes a victim of German doctor Herta Oberheuser, whose misguided patriotism and ambition lead her to perform horrific medical experiments on prisoners. Meanwhile, American socialite Caroline Ferriday spends the war sending relief overseas while experiencing the pain of a tortured love affair. The trauma of the conflict continues long after 1945 for all three women. It's apparent that Kelly, who was inspired by real events and people, has done the research necessary to tell this extraordinarily powerful historical story well. She vividly evokes not only the horrors of the gruesome experiments but also the painful realities of trying to survive them and the difficult search for justice and closure afterward. While Herta remains a bit enigmatic compared to the other two main characters, the overall story of the three women's intertwining lives is extremely moving and memorable. VERDICT This impressive debut should appeal strongly to historical fiction readers and to book clubs that adored works such as Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale and Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See. [Previewed in "Editors' Spring Picks," LJ 2/15/16; library and academic marketing.]--Mara Bandy, Champaign P.L., IL

      Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

    • Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet Advance praise for Lilac Girls "Inspired by actual events and real people, Martha Hall Kelly has woven together the stories of three women during World War II that reveal the bravery, cowardice, and cruelty of those days. This is a part of history--women's history--that should never be forgotten."--Lisa See, New York Times bestselling author of China Dolls "This is the kind of book I wish I had the courage to write--a profound, unsettling, and thoroughly captivating look at sisterhood through the dark lens of the Holocaust. Lilac Girls is the best book I've read all year. It will haunt you."
    • Beatriz Williams, New York Times bestselling author of A Hundred Summers and The Secret Life of Violet Grant "Rich with historical detail and riveting to the end, Lilac Girls weaves the lives of three astonishing women into a story of extraordinary moral power set against the harrowing backdrop of Europe in thrall to Nazi Germany. Martha Hall Kelly moves effortlessly across physical and ethical battlegrounds, across the trajectory of a doomed wartime romance, across the territory of the soul. I can't remember the last time I read a novel that moved me so deeply."
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