#BookReview of Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Lilac Girls is the retelling of the group of female Polish WWII concentration camp detainees, known as the “Rabbits”, who are forced to undergo horrific medical experiments at the hands of the Nazis. Through three separate narratives, Caroline, Herta and Kasia, we follow war crimes, victims, heroism, cowardice and redemption.

I was excited to read this book. This was another Christmas gift from my daughter. We’d both heard good things about it, but halfway through I was saying Yikes… how did this book garner so many rave reviews?

I didn’t care much for anything here. The lukewarm writing, lack of character development, and limp and stilted dialogue quickly led to an incredibly boring read for me. Yes, the author certainly did her research (or had someone do an excellent job for her), but to me that’s just how it read – like carefully done research.

The story of the Rabbits is compelling and terribly heartbreaking. I’ve read and studied about the Nazi concentration camps over the years and never cease to be moved by the awfulness of it. Historical fiction that centers on WWII is a huge favorite of mine. And that’s where the issue, for me, comes in. The fictionalized story of the Rabbits in Lilac Girls falls flat for me.

I cared not one iota for any of the major characters here. Caroline came off as a rich, pampered socialite who was wealthy enough to spend all her time volunteering, yet is suddenly reduced to selling the family silver. Things just didn’t add up. Her relationship with Paul was so idiotic and pointless it could have been left completely out of the story. Interestingly, the author has said that the Caroline/Paul relationship was completely fictionalized and I really had to wonder why there was so much boring time wasted on it.

Herta is depicted in the book blurb as an “ambitious young German doctor, (who answers) an ad for a government medical position… Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.” What? She had a couple of feeble doubts for approximately five minutes after arriving at the camp, but soon she happily goes about performing hideous experiments on women. I wasn’t buying it.

I found Kasia to be immature and naïve for her age (eighteen). Horrific things are done to her, yet there just didn’t seem to be the passion from her that I’d expect. And this is how I found all the characters to be in Lilac Girls – lacking passion and substance.

I realize I might be in the minority here (although I’ve read many, many negative reviews for Lilac Girls), but my review is my personal opinion of how I interpreted the book. I found it boring, drawn out and lacking any real substance. I’m disappointed and wish I could have actually enjoyed this book, but I just could not.


2 of 5 Stars, Review by Susan Barton