Cover image for Lilac girls : a novel
Lilac girls : a novel
Ballantine books trade paperback ed.
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10 books in 1 cloth bag (530 pages ; 21 cm.) : illustrations ; 37 x 46 cm. + 1 reading group guide folder.
General Note:
Includes reading group guide.

A cloth bag containing ten copies of the title and a folder with miscellaneous notes, discussion questions, biographical information, and reading lists to assist book group discussion leaders.
Manhattan, 1939. New York socialite Caroline Ferriday's biggest problem is resisting the advances of a married actor. Across the Atlantic Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish Catholic teenager, is affected when Germany declares war on Poland. As tensions rise Caroline's interest in aiding the war effort in France grows; she hears about the dire situation at the Ravensbr


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Book club kit KT FICTION KEL 0 1

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * For readers of The Nightingale and Sarah's Key, inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this remarkable debut novel reveals the power of unsung women to change history in their quest for love, freedom, and second chances.

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.

USA Today "New and Noteworthy" Book * LibraryReads Top Ten Pick

"Harrowing . . . Lilac illuminates." -- People

"A compelling, page-turning narrative . . . Lilac Girls falls squarely into the groundbreaking category of fiction that re-examines history from a fresh, female point of view. It's smart, thoughtful and also just an old-fashioned good read." -- Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"A powerful story for readers everywhere . . . Martha Hall Kelly has brought readers a firsthand glimpse into one of history's most frightening memories. A novel that brings to life what these women and many others suffered. . . . I was moved to tears." -- San Francisco Book Review

"Extremely moving and memorable . . . This impressive debut should appeal strongly to historical fiction readers and to book clubs that adored Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale and Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See ." -- Library Journal (starred review)

"[A] compelling first novel . . . This is a page-turner demonstrating the tests and triumphs civilians faced during war, complemented by Kelly's vivid depiction of history and excellent characters." -- Publishers Weekly

"Kelly vividly re-creates the world of Ravensbrück." -- Kirkus Reviews

"Inspired by actual events and real people, Martha Hall Kelly has woven together the stories of three women during World War II that reveal the bravery, cowardice, and cruelty of those days. This is a part of history--women's history--that should never be forgotten." --Lisa See, New York Times bestselling author of China Dolls

"Profound, unsettling, and thoroughly . . . the best book I've read all year." --Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Author Notes

Marth Hall Kelly is a native New Englander, born in Milton, Massachusetts. She has worked as an advertising copywriter. The Lilac Girls is her first novel. It is on the March 2017 New York Times Best Sellers list.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Kelly's compelling first novel follows three women through the course of World War II and beyond. Caroline, a wealthy New Yorker, volunteers at the French consulate in New York, assisting refugees and raising funds. She meets Paul, a charming, married French actor, and sparks fly. Kasia, a young woman living in Poland during the Nazi invasion, works for the resistance until she is captured and sent to Ravensbruck, the women's concentration camp. There, she encounters Herta, a doctor hired to help execute inmates and perform experiments. Though her mother is Herta's trusted assistant, and even saved a camp guard's life, Kasia is operated on, joining the "Rabbits," inmates deformed from their surgeries. Meanwhile, Caroline loses touch with Paul when he returns to France to find his wife, and she finds herself tasked with keeping track of the growing concentration camp network for the consulate, learned from British intelligence. After the war, she travels to France to assist in locating missing people, where she learns about the Rabbits, including Kasia, who is struggling to let go of her anger and move on with her life. Despite some horrific scenes, this is a page-turner demonstrating the tests and triumphs civilians faced during war, complemented by Kelly's vivid depiction of history and excellent characters. Agent: Alexandra Machinist, Curtis Brown. (Apr.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Spanning more than 20 years in the lives of 3 women and based on real people and events, Kelly's debut brings historical facts to startling life. As the narrative begins in 1939, Caroline Ferraday is a former Broadway actress and New York socialite who works with the French consulate, Herta Oberheuser is an ambitious young German doctor, and Kasia Kuzmerick is a 15-year-old Polish girl just getting involved with the resistance. As WWII progresses and Hitler's army proceeds through Europe, circumstances draw these women together. Caroline's relief work becomes more necessary. Herta secures a position as camp doctor at Ravensbrück, and Kasia is transported there with her mother and sister after her courier activities are reported. When the war ends and the camp is liberated, the story continues. Caroline pursues reparations and justice for the displaced, Herta is tried and convicted of war crimes, and Kasia attempts to return to a normal existence in now-Communist Poland, marrying and having a baby. Details of fundraising efforts, immigration issues, Reich politics, camp life, and interpersonal relationships make for a gripping read that lingers well after the book ends. Offer this to WWII aficionados, biography fans, and book clubs.--Moroni, Alene Copyright 2016 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

The female prisoners who underwent horrific surgical experiments at the Ravensbrück concentration camp became known as "the Rabbits." In her first novel, Kelly rotates portraits of two real-life women involved in this story (an American named Caroline Ferriday, who led a crusade on behalf of the survivors, and Herta Oberheuser, the Nazi surgeon who performed the gruesome operations) with that of a fictional Polish woman, Kasia, loosely based on two of the actual Rabbits. Although Kelly's novel is clearly the result of exhaustive research, the deficiency in "Lilac Girls" rests, unfortunately, with its characters. Caroline comes off as a dilettante, and Kasia starts out as something of a Joan of Arc, a passionate if naïve operative in the Polish resistance whose feelings of guilt when she takes down her entire family after a botched assignment aren't plumbed in any meaningful way. Herta, arriving at Ravensbrück oblivious to its real purpose, is aghast when she learns its secret. But the next time we see her, she's encased in ice: heartless, cruel, infuriating. What happened? Like everyone else, she's a stereotype with no narrative force of her own. Postwar, things only get worse. Caroline and Kasia devolve into shrill, selfish brats (it takes some doing to make a concentration camp survivor appear an ingrate), and Herta mercifully disappears from the story - though, alas, not for good. "Lilac Girls" is an earnest attempt to tell the Rabbits' story, but it sinks under the weight of its own ambition.

Kirkus Review

Kelly's three narrators are based on actual people whose destinies converged in or around Ravensbrck, Hitler's concentration camp for women. It's 1939: Hitler has invaded Poland, and although few suspect it, France is next. Caroline, a former debutante who, at 37, appears to have missed her chance for marriage, does charity work at the French Consulate in Manhattan. Requests for visas accelerate, as does demand for the care packages Caroline sends overseas. When her married would-be lover, Paul, leaves New York for Paris shortly before the Germans march in, Caroline fears the worst. Kasia, a former Girl Guide, joins an underground youth group after the Nazis occupy her hometown of Lublin, Poland. Soon she's arrested, along with her mother and sister, Zuzanna, a medical student. The women are sent to Ravensbrck, a concentration camp whose mission is to work the prisoners to deaththose, that is, who aren't terminated immediately upon arrival. (A crude form of lethal injection is used, as the Nazis are still experimenting with more efficient means of mass murder.) Kasia watches in horror as one of her former teachers is fatally mauled by a dog set on her by Binz, the head guard. Young physician Herta, the third narrator, is a loyal German and Nazi. Although not happy about Hitler's edict that women doctors cannot be surgeons, she's less than upset when her father's Jewish doctor is deported. She accepts a post at Ravensbrck, where her Hippocratic oath is immediately compromised: her first duty is to dispatch an elderly prisoner. Her eagerness to scrub in quickly overcomes any remaining scruples as Herta conducts grisly surgical "experiments" on inmates, including Kasia. The women, many permanently maimed, who undergo these "studies" become known as the "Rabbits." Kelly vividly re-creates the world of Ravensbrck but is less successful integrating the wartime experience of Caroline, whose involvement with the surviving Rabbits comes very late. In this mashup of two war novels, the more conventional New York story pales by comparison. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Kelly's first novel, based on a true story, is told from the points of view of three women-an American, a Pole, and a German-whose paths intersect after World War II. In 1939, Caroline Ferriday works at the French consulate in New York on behalf of French orphans, work that is all the more urgent with U.S. immigration quotas and Hitler's threat to Europe. The Kuzmerick family of Lublin, Poland, is broken apart by the SS. Kasia, her older sister Zusanna, and her mother, Halina, are relocated to Ravensbruck, a Nazi work camp. In Dusseldorf, Herta Oberheuser has finished her medical studies and goes to work for the Reich-at Ravensbruck. Kasia becomes one of the subjects of Nazi medical experiments administered by Herta. As a result, Kasia is crippled. She and her sister survive the camp, though their mother perishes. Through Caroline's relief work, Kasia and other Ravensbruck survivors are brought to the United States for medical treatment in 1954. Her leg healed, Kasia returns to Poland with a final assignment: to find Herta and discover what happened to -Halina. Their eventual meeting brings only a partial resolution. Narration by Cassandra Campbell, Kathleen Gati, and Kathrin Kana enhances the story line. VERDICT This memorable tale of despair and restored hope will be a popular book club choice. Recommended. ["This impressive debut should appeal strongly to historical fiction readers": LJ 4/1/16 starred review of the Ballantine hc.]-Nann Blaine Hilyard, formerly with Zion-Benton P.L., IL © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter 1 Caroline September 1939 If I'd known I was about to meet the man who'd shatter me like bone china on terra-cotta, I would have slept in. Instead, I roused our florist, Mr. Sitwell, from his bed to make a boutonnière. My first consulate gala was no time to stand on ceremony. I joined the riptide of the great unwashed moving up Fifth Avenue. Men in gray-felted fedoras pushed by me, the morning papers in their attachés bearing the last benign headlines of the decade. There was no storm gathering in the east that day, no portent of things to come. The only ominous sign from the direction of Europe was the scent of slack water wafting off the East River. As I neared our building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Forty-ninth Street, I felt Roger watching from the window above. He'd fired people for a lot less than being twenty minutes late, but the one time of year the New York elite opened their wallets and pretended they cared about France was no time for skimpy boutonnières. I turned at the corner, the morning sun alive in the gold-leaf letters chiseled in the cornerstone: la maison française. The French Building, home to the French Consulate, stood side by side with the British Empire Building, facing Fifth Avenue, part of Rockefeller Center, Junior Rockefeller's new complex of granite and limestone. Many foreign consulates kept offices there then, resulting in a great stew of international diplomacy. "All the way to the back and face the front," said Cuddy, our elevator operator. Mr. Rockefeller handpicked the elevator boys, screening for manners and good looks. Cuddy was heavy on the looks, though his hair was already salt-and-peppered, his body in a hurry to age. Cuddy fixed his gaze on the illuminated numbers above the doors. "You got a crowd up there today, Miss Ferriday. Pia said there's two new boats in." "Delightful," I said. Cuddy brushed something off the sleeve of his navy-blue uniform jacket. "Another late one tonight?" For the fastest elevators in the world, ours still took forever. "I'll be gone by five. Gala tonight." I loved my job. Grandmother Woolsey had started the work tradition in our family, nursing soldiers on the battlefield at Gettysburg. But my volunteer post as head of family assistance for the French Consulate wasn't work really. Loving all things French was simply genetic for me. My father may have been half-Irish, but his heart belonged to France. Plus, Mother had inherited an apartment in Paris, where we spent every August, so I felt at home there. The elevator stopped. Even through the closed doors, we could hear a terrific din of raised voices. A shiver ran through me. "Third floor," Cuddy called out. "French Consulate. Watch your--" Once the doors parted, the noise overpowered all polite speech. The hallway outside our reception area was packed so tightly with people one could scarcely step through. Both the Normandie and the Ile de France, two of France's premier ocean liners, had landed that morning in New York Harbor, packed with wealthy passengers fleeing the uncertainty in France. Once the all-clear horn signaled and they were free to disembark, the ships' elite streamed to the consulate to iron out visa problems and other sticky issues. I squeezed into the smoky reception area, past ladies in Paris's newest day dresses who stood gossiping in a lovely cloud of Arpège, the sea spray still in their hair. The people in this group were accustomed to being shadowed by a butler with a crystal ashtray and a champagne flute. Bellboys in scarlet jackets from the Normandie went toe-to-toe with their black-jacketed counterparts from the Ile de France. I wedged one shoulder through the crowd, toward our secretary's desk at the back of the room, and my chiffon scarf snagged on the clasp of one ravishing creature's pearls. As I worked to extract it, the intercom buzzed unanswered. Roger. I pressed on through, felt a pat on my behind, and turned to see a midshipman flash a plaquey smile. "Gardons nos mains pour nous-mêmes," I said. Let's keep our hands to ourselves. The boy raised his arm above the crowd and dangled his Normandie stateroom key. At least he wasn't the over-sixty type I usually attracted. I made it to our secretary's desk, where she sat, head down, typing. "Bonjour, Pia." Roger's cousin, a sloe-eyed boy of eighteen, was sitting on Pia's desk, legs crossed. He held his cigarette in the air as he picked through a box of chocolates, Pia's favorite breakfast. My inbox on her desk was already stacked with case folders. "Vraiment? What is so good about it?" she said, not lifting her head. Pia was much more than a secretary. We all wore many hats, and hers included signing in new clients and establishing a folder for each, typing up Roger's considerable correspondence, and deciphering the massive flood of daily Morse-code pulses that was the lifeblood of our office. "Why is it so hot in here?" I said. "The phone is ringing, Pia." She plucked a chocolate from the box. "It keeps doing that." Pia attracted beaux as if she emitted a frequency only males could detect. She was attractive in a feral way, but I suspected her popularity was due in part to her tight sweaters. "Can you take some of my cases today, Pia?" "Roger says I can't leave this chair." She broke the shell of the chocolate's underside with her manicured thumb, stalking the strawberry crèmes. "He also wants to see you right away, but I think the woman on the sofa slept in the hallway last night." Pia flapped one half of a one-hundred-dollar bill at me. "And the fatty with the dogs says he'll give you the other half if you take him first." She nodded toward the well-fed older couple near my office door, each holding a brace of gray-muzzled dachshunds. Like Pia's, my job description was wide-ranging. It included attending to the needs of French citizens here in New York--often families fallen on hard times--and overseeing my French Families Fund, a charity effort through which I sent comfort boxes to French orphans overseas. I'd just retired from an almost two-decade-long stint on Broadway, and this felt easy by comparison. It certainly involved less unpacking of trunks. My boss, Roger Fortier, appeared in his office doorway. "Caroline, I need you now. Bonnet's canceled." "You can't be serious, Roger." The news came like a punch. I'd secured the French foreign minister as our gala keynote speaker months before. "It's not easy being the French foreign minister right now," he called over his shoulder as he went back inside. I stepped into my office and flipped through the Wheeldex on my desk. Was Mother's Buddhist-monk friend Ajahn Chah free that night? "Caroline--" Roger called. I grabbed my Wheeldex and hurried to his office, avoiding the couple with the dachshunds, who were trying their best to look tragic. "Why were you late this morning?" Roger asked. "Pia's been here for two hours already." As consul general, Roger Fortier ruled from the corner suite with its commanding view of Rockefeller Plaza and the Promenade Cafe. Normally the famous skating rink occupied that sunken spot, but the rink was closed for the summer, the space now filled with café tables and tuxedoed waiters rushing about with aprons to their ankles. Beyond, Paul Manship's massive golden Prometheus fell to earth, holding his stolen fire aloft. Behind it, the RCA Building shot up seventy floors into the sapphire sky. Roger had a lot in common with the imposing male figure of Wisdom chiseled above the building's entrance. The furrowed brow. The beard. The angry eyes. "I stopped for Bonnet's boutonnière--" "Oh, that's worth keeping half of France waiting." Roger bit into a doughnut, and powdered sugar cascaded down his beard. Despite what might kindly be called a husky figure, he was never at a loss for female companions. His desk was heaped with folders, security documents, and dossiers on missing French citizens. According to the French Consulate Handbook, his job was "to assist French nationals in New York, in the event of theft, serious illness, or arrest and with issues related to birth certificates, adoption, and lost or stolen documents; to plan visits of French officials and fellow diplomats; and to assist with political difficulties and natural disasters." The troubles in Europe provided plenty of work for us in all those categories, if you counted Hitler as a natural disaster. "I have cases to get back to, Roger--" He sent a manila folder skidding across the polished conference table. "Not only do we have no speaker; I was up half the night rewriting Bonnet's speech. Had to sidestep Roosevelt letting France buy American planes." "France should be able to buy all the planes they want." "We're raising money here, Caroline. It's not the time to annoy the isolationists. Especially the rich ones." "They don't support France anyway." "We don't need any more bad press. Is the U.S. too cozy with France? Will that push Germany and Russia closer? I can barely finish a third course without being interrupted by a reporter. And we can't mention the Rockefellers . . . Don't want another call from Junior. Guess that'll happen anyway now that Bonnet canceled." "It's a disaster, Roger." "May need to scrap the whole thing." Roger raked his long fingers through his hair, digging fresh trenches through the Brylcreem. "Refund forty thousand dollars? What about the French Families Fund? I'm already operating on fumes. Plus, we've paid for ten pounds of Waldorf salad--" "They call that salad?" Roger flipped through his contact cards, half of them illegible and littered with cross-outs. "It's pathetique . . . just chopped apples and celery. And those soggy walnuts . . ." I scoured my Wheeldex in search of celebrity candidates. Mother and I knew Julia Marlowe, the famous actress, but she was touring Europe. "How about Peter Patout? Mother's people have used him." "The architect?" "Of the whole World's Fair. They have that seven-foot robot." "Boring," he said, slapping his silver letter opener against his palm. I flipped to the L's. "How about Captain Lehude?" "Of the Normandie? Are you serious? He's paid to be dull." "You can't just discount every suggestion out of hand, Roger. How about Paul Rodierre? Betty says everyone's talking about him." Roger pursed his lips, always a good sign. "The actor? I saw his new play in previews. He's good. Tall and attractive, if you go for that look. Fast metabolism, of course." "At least we know he can memorize a script." "He's a bit of a loose cannon. And married too, so don't get any ideas." "I'm through with men, Roger," I said. At thirty-seven, I'd resigned myself to singledom. "Not sure Rodierre'll do it. See who you can get, but make sure they stick to the script. No Roosevelt--" "No Rockefellers," I finished. Between cases, I called around to various last-minute possibilities, ending up with one option, Paul Rodierre. He was in New York appearing in a new American musical revue at the Broadhurst Theatre, The Streets of Paris, Carmen Miranda's cyclonic Broadway debut. I phoned the William Morris Agency and was told they'd check and call me back. Ten minutes later, M. Rodierre's agent told me the theater was dark that night and that, though his client did not own evening clothes, he was deeply honored by our request to host the gala that evening. He'd meet me at the Waldorf to discuss details. Our apartment on East Fiftieth Street was a stone's throw from the Waldorf, so I rushed there to change into Mother's black Chanel dress. I found M. Rodierre seated at a café table in the Waldorf's Peacock Alley bar adjacent to the lobby as the two-ton bronze clock sounded its lovely Westminster Cathedral chime on the half hour. Gala guests in their finest filtered in, headed for the Grand Ballroom upstairs. "M. Rodierre?" I said. Roger was right about the attractive part. The first thing a person notices about Paul Rodierre, after the initial jolt of his physical beauty, is the remarkable smile. "How can I thank you for doing this so last minute, Monsieur?" He unfolded himself from his chair, presenting a build better suited to rowing crew on the Charles than playing Broadway. He attempted to kiss my cheek, but I extended my hand to him, and he shook it. It was nice to meet a man my height. "My pleasure," he said. His attire was the issue: green trousers, an aubergine velvet sports jacket, brown suede shoes, and worst of all, a black shirt. Only priests and fascists wore black shirts. And gangsters, of course. "Do you want to change?" I resisted the urge to tidy his hair, which was long enough to pull back with a rubber band. "Shave perhaps?" According to his agent, M. Rodierre was a guest at the hotel, so his razor sat just a few stories overhead. "This is what I wear," he said with a shrug. Typical actor. Why hadn't I known better? The parade of guests en route to the ballroom was growing, the women stunning in their finery, every man in tails and patent leather oxfords or calf opera pumps. "This is my first gala," I said. "The consulate's one night to raise money. It's white tie." Would he fit into Father's old tux? The inseam would be right, but it would be much too tight in the shoulders. "Are you always this, well, energized, Miss Ferriday?" "Well, here in New York, individuality is not always appreciated." I handed him the stapled sheets. "I'm sure you're eager to see the script." He handed it back. "No, merci." I pushed it back into his hands. "But the consul general himself wrote it." "Tell me again why I'm doing this?" "It's to benefit displaced French citizens all year and my French Families Fund. We help orphans back in France whose parents have been lost for any number of reasons. With all the uncertainty abroad, we're one reliable source of clothes and food. Plus, the Rockefellers will be there tonight." He paged through the speech. "They could write a check and avoid this whole thing." "They're among our kindest donors, but please don't refer to them. Or President Roosevelt. Or the planes the U.S. sold France. Some of our guests tonight love France, of course, but would rather stay out of a war for now. Roger wants to avoid controversy." "Dancing around things never feels authentic. The audience feels that." "Can you just stick to the script, Monsieur?" "Worrying can lead to heart failure, Miss Ferriday." I pulled the pin from the lily of the valley. "Here--a boutonnière for the guest of honor." "Muguet?" M. Rodierre said. "Where did you find that this time of year?" "You can get anything in New York. Our florist forces it from pips." I rested my palm against his lapel and dug the pin deep into the French velvet. Was that lovely fragrance from him or the flowers? Why didn't American men smell like this, of tuberose and wood musk and-- "You know lily of the valley is poisonous, right?" M. Rodierre said. "So don't eat it. At least not until you've finished speaking. Or if the crowd turns on you." Excerpted from Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.