(Warning-while the first part of this review is spoiler free, I do go into discussing the different characters and their storylines in the second half. The spoilers are clearly marked so you can avoid them if you haven’t had a chance to read this yet!!)
I had this book on my TBR list for a long time, pretty much since it came out, but after reading some comments about it in a Facebook group I knew I had to start reading it immediately. It’s a bigger book, close to 500 pages, but I flew through it in one evening.
The story is told from the view of three main characters-Caroline, an American socialite who wants to help everyone, Kasia, a Polish teen whose main priority at the beginning is whether or not the boy she likes reciprocates her feelings, and Herta, a young German doctor who just wants to be taken seriously. In addition there were many, many supporting characters and storylines. Usually I hate books told from multiple viewpoints, but each character had such a strong voice that it was easy to keep each separate.
From reading reviews, I knew that the violence toward the women was a bit much for some. I did find it hard to read in some spots, but it was not overly graphic or unnecessary. On the contrary, I thought that these scenes really highlighted the situation that these women had found themselves in, and the deteriorating morals and standards of the time. To have a book about the Holocaust and concentration camps without showing the violence occurring would be absurd, and I thought that the author was extremely respectful toward the victims while still being realistic.
Above all, seeing the development of the characters from beginning to end was such a treat. The book spanned twenty years, 1939-1959, and you were really able to see everyone grow up before your eyes. While it was difficult to read in spots, this was an excellent novel, based on some real women, and a must read for anyone who is interested in historical fiction.
Spoilers below the book link. DO NOT go down there unless you want the book spoiled. I warned you.
(If you click this book link and order I will receive a small kickback, fyi! The paperback is on preorder right now for only $11.25!)
I had so many feelings about these characters after I was done reading, but Herta stuck out to me in particular. Something that I appreciated about this book was that not everyone was redeemed in the end. Herta did not do a dramatic 360 and change her tune and help rescue everyone-in fact, she got more unlikeable as the book went on. But despite her actions, you could also see her motivations.
The scene in the butcher shop, where her uncle rapes her, really sets the tone for her character. You can see in that scene how resigned she is to the way her life is going, and when she is offered the chance to change, to be a real doctor, she snaps it up. Take a girl like that, very young, and give her such authority and a chance to practice surgery-what she really wants to do-you see the way she goes from hesitant to wanting to prove herself. She is certainly not excused from her actions, by any means, but the thought that went into her background really lends a lot of depth to her character.
It was also fascinating to me how much research went into this book. It has excellent pacing, is detailed without being dry, and the fact that these characters are real or based on real people just adds another level to the book. One of my favorites this year, definitely! This is Martha Hall Kelly’s first novel, and I can’t wait to read her next book-which she has stated will be a prequel to Lilac Girls!