This debut novel is based on real events and real people. It is set during WWII beginning with the invasion of Poland through the fall and liberation of France. It is not just another Holocaust story, but tells a broader tale. The author’s purpose seems to be to keep this period of women’s history alive as it explores several themes.
Kelly weaves together the lives of three extraordinary women and includes a “doomed wartime romance,” an ambitious career woman striving to make a way into a male dominated field, and the feelings and emotions of two closely attached biological sisters. The writing is deeply moving and has beautiful, vivid descriptions. The novel begins with and revolves around Caroline, based on a real socialite and employee of the French Consulate in New York City, who is not just “doing her part for the war effort,” but is dedicated to making a difference in people’s lives. The title comes from the lilacs planted at her Bethlehem, Connecticut, home, which today is a museum. Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager who is sent to the notorious Ravensbruck Labor Camp along with her doctor sister because she has been caught smuggling messages to the resistance is the second Lilac girl. A brilliant German doctor, Herta Oberhauser, makes up the third of the trio as she works with the Nazis, operating on the “Rabbits,” of which Kasia and her sister are a part.
One critic describes this fiction-based-on-fact novel as the story of “…unsung women and their quest for love, freedom, and second chances.” I loved the novel for its twists and turns in the plot, its excellently drawn characters, and the way it kept my interest through the final pages. I highly recommend this as a “darned good read.”