Lilac Girls

“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

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.

What was in the box?

For our first box in July of 2016, we wanted to make sure all gifts were included and opened at the most heightened moments to ensure readers could truly connect to the story.

Readers discovered Matka's ring (which was stolen by the Nazis), a secret message written in invisible ink, a pair of grey fashion socks, a headband scarf, a floral patterned cloth envelope containing a real photo of children from World War II, and a packet of lilac seeds, representing Caroline's lilacs in the book.

Michelle, the creator of OUABC, planned, curated, stickered, wrapped, and shipped this box from her living room! This was the origin box of Once Upon a Book Club and Michelle was so elated to find a book that so perfectly embodied the Once Upon a Book Club reading experience for our first shipment.

Discussion Questions

Chatting about books is what we do! Have you joined our Facebook group yet? Find like-minded readers who love books as much as you do and join in the conversation! All book lovers are welcome!

1. "Man's inhumanity to man" is one of the main concerns of Lilac Girls. Talk about the "slippery slope" on which Herta finds herself. How did she end up in the untenable situation in which she finds herself? How culpable is she?

2. What role did compassion play in the horrific conditions of Nazified Europe? What were the dangers to those who attempted to act compassionately? How might you have chosen if faced with such a dire dilemma: compassion vs risk?

3. Did you feel that Matka's ring was an important symbol in the book? How did Herta feel about the ring? Why did she keep it?

4. Throughout the novel, in and out of Ravensbruck, the characters experience harrowing, difficult situations. Was there one that you found more memorable than the others? Why do you think the author chose to include it?

5. Many of the themes explored in Lilac Girls - human rights, political resistance, survival - are a direct result of the historical WWII setting. How are those themes relevant to current events today?

6. Lilac Girls also touches on a number of interpersonal themes including female friendship, mother-daughter relationships, love, infidelity, mental health, and more. How do these themes impact the characters' lives?

Meet Author Martha Hall Kelly