Lilac Girls

I have a couple of magazines that periodically suggest new and interesting books to read. Based on the brief descriptions,  I usually find myself requesting several of them from the library; sometimes I’m way down in the list, but sometimes I’m able to get them pretty quickly.

Lilac Girls was one of those suggestions. It had been a while since I had put in my request, and I had almost forgotten what it was about. But when I checked it out, I was reminded. The description sounded like it was historical fiction, and since I enjoy well-written historical fiction, I had decided to try it.

It was a fascinating read–and when I read the author notes at the end, I discovered that it was far more history than I expected.

This debut novel is the story of three young women–Caroline Ferriday (an American socialite/former actress), Kasia (Polish teenager), and Herta Oberheuser (German doctor) just before/during/after World War II and how their lives intersect. I had thought that probably the characters were fictional, but Caroline and Herta actually existed, and Kasia (and her sister) were modeled on a pair of sisters who actually existed as well.

At times it’s almost too hard to read, especially when Kasia and her friends and family end up in Ravensbruck and become victims of the “medical experimentation” performed by Oberheuser. But it is also a story of hope, goodness, and forgiveness.

There were several things that struck me, reading it in our current political climate:

  • Being reared in privilege doesn’t necessarily keep one from being involved deeply in philanthropic activities or finding ways to help people in need.
  • When we begin to focus on the things that divide us, it becomes far too easy to see “the other” as somehow less human…and that can lead to unimaginable horrors.
  • Persistence is necessary at times to break down barriers and bring help.
  • Justice is necessary for healing–for individuals, communities, and societies.ently