Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

One thing you will learn about me if you start following this blog, is my love for historical fiction and my desire to read around my ancestry (Polish/Ukrainian). Reading is such an important part of my self-care routine, but it is also the first thing I drop when life gets stressful. No more! As a creature of habit who thrives in routine, I know this blog will hold me accountable to this purpose. My Reading Life with CBQ Blog will have a fresh post every THURSDAY. Just in time for the weekends in case you are looking for your next impactful read!

Books speak to us in so many different ways. “Window books” allow us to experience the lives of others. “Mirror books” give us the ability to see our own lives reflected in the pages. But when books become SLIDING GLASS DOORS, we are transported into the world of the story and we are forever changed. These books leave a mark on our hearts and alter the way we see the world. THESE are the books I want to share with you.

Since this is my first post, I would also like to mention that I will not just be sharing literature for adults. As a passionate teacher librarian and devourer of kid lit, graphic novels, middle grade novels and young adult novels- I will also be sharing my K-8 favourites because most of you have children or nieces and nephews with whom you can share these recommendations.

To kick this off, my first FIVE blog posts will include my TOP FIVE favourites (this was reallllllly hard to narrow down). I figure this will give you an idea if our reading tastes align and whether or not you trust me in finding your next book. As someone who is very selfish with my down-time, life is too short to waste reading books that don’t sing to your soul. So let’s see if they also sing to YOUR soul.

I want to start with Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly.

Back cover synopsis:

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.

First off, I have not been traumatized by a novel since Kristin Hannah’s Nightingale. I had to put this book down so many times, just to cry. It has shown me what my Baba and Dzadiek truly endured after WWII in the Stalinist years behind the Iron Curtain. This book lead me to many deep conversations with my dad, who crossed the Atlantic at age 7 in 1959. Baba had sewn money into their clothing, and my dad remembers feeling scared but not knowing why.  Everyone was on edge for YEARS after the war ended. 

Author Martha Hall Kelly uncovered the stories of so many courageous women who endured the vile experiments performed by Nazi doctors at Ravensbruck concentration camp. These stories were buried for decades due to the fear and uncertainty in the new regime ruled by the Red Army and the NKVD, Stalin’s brutal law enforcement agency in charge of “ferreting out ‘enemies of the people.’” Tens of thousands of Polish political prisoners were executed.

This is a harrowing reading experience. You cannot help but imagine yourself staggering alongside these women, wondering if YOU could bolster the same strength to survive. Not an easy read, but necessary for history's sake.

“But it’s fitting in a way—Father loved the fact that a lilac only blossoms after a harsh winter.”

Lilac Girls is a part of a series in which all the books are tied together with one family. There is a second book, Lost Roses, which delves into Caroline's mother's past during the fall of the tsars in Russia. The third book, Sunflower Sisters follows a young slave girl during the Civil War.

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