book reviews, books

READING LILAC GIRLS

library or bookstore, this book is worth your time.

The gift of the vigorous writing I have been doing has been the books that have landed on my desk about writing. I have learned when I am on the right path, the exact things show up in my life at the perfect time. This has been a consistent force in my life history and between Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Berg, Stephen King and a few more I can’t think of as I sit at my grandfather’s home in beautiful sunny Florida, these advice on writing books have been helpful.

Some books say, “Write every day without fail.” Others say, “Take a break, walk away, get inspired.” But all of them without fail say, “Read. A lot.” So reading I have been doing.

“How do you have the time?” My friend, Marcia asked me one night at dinner. I thought about this for a moment. When something speaks to your core with a such a force that I feel almost nauseous by not writing, I make the time.  I make the time because writing has become such an integral part of my priority list that everything I am doing right now must support this.

Once I made a commitment to write and write and write, reading became the necessary counter balance. What a gift that reading more books helps writing more stories because now that I am reading a book every three of four days, I am learning much more about the craft of writing. I appreciated great writing before, but now it has taken a hold of me with a fervor.

My favorite genre has always been historical fiction especially when a book takes the place during World War II. Perhaps it is because I am Jewish and because my grandfather was drafted, or because my parents were born a year before the war ended. Maybe it is because I am getting older and the world seems more fragile then ever. All of the historical foreshadowing for the world we seem to be living in pulses around me because I have watched too many episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, but when I read of a book that takes place during the early 1940s, I am drawn.

As I gathered my beach books for my trip, I came across a book called Lilac Girls that had found its way to my house around Hanukkah. I was between library books waiting to hear that the ones I had placed on hold were available for pickup so I began reading this debut novel by Martha Hall Kelly with a vengeance. As I made my way through yet another story about a female Holocaust experience, I couldn’t put this book down.

The Holocaust trauma is usually about Jewish people, six million children, women, men just because of their beliefs, but Lilac Girls reminded me of the many others who were put in concentration camps. People we seldom hear about and in this case a group of Polish women put in a concentration camp for women only called Ravensbrück in Germany, many because of their resistance work.

I had the pleasure of taking a course at Rhode Island College called Women’s Resistance in the Holocaust. It was here that I really began understanding the importance of resistance and how many layers there are to this response to a political movement gone terribly wrong. Lilac Girls reminded me of the varying ways one can resist and fight and the way that women do this or not is shown beautifully in this book. These women were held as prisoners not even knowing what the charge was. I never knew that there was only one concentration camp just for women. This fact alone makes the book a lesson in history. Even though it is a fictional account, the author does a brilliant job in giving us the factual details that a great historical fiction novel can do.

We so often hear of the Jewish resistance movement during the war, occasionally we hear of non-Jews who helped hide and save Jews, but besides the famed Schindler, so many heroes and heroines go unnoticed the further away from the time we move. This book introduces us to a real-life character who was doing her own resistance work in New York, a socialite with many connections named Caroline Ferriday and how she came to know about the prisoners at Ravensbrück.

Along with Caroline, we learn of the Polish women prisoners who suffered brutal surgical experiments on their legs, causing the women who actually survived this torture to hop around the camp because of the disfigurement and pain the surgeries caused. This gave them the nickname Rabbits and Martha Hall Kelly brought them back to life in her first novel. The women’s stories are only a part of this mind opening first novel. I highly suggest this book if you are looking for a poignant read that also gives you a time travel back to a time in history we must force ourselves to keep in our consciousness.

The glory of writing is that more reading helps more writing. A break from writing also helps writing and both are part of this week of solo vacation for me. I only hope that as I march forth with my own research for my first historical fiction novel, I do the same justice that Martha Hall Kelly did for hers. She is writing her next novel called a prequel to this one and I can hardly wait.

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