“Turning oneself to the misfortunes of others is the best way to dispense with personal troubles. Hadn’t Lord Byron himself said, “The busy have no time for tears”?”
Lately, I’ve been binging on World War II novels. The Second Great War has been extensively explored in literature and art, enough to feel like a genre unto itself, and I’ve barely scratched the sobering surface. I was stunned to find that I’d never before heard of the rabbits of Ravensbruck. Am I the only one? Ravensbruck was the sole concentration camp exclusively for women, and the toxic setting where 74 Polish girls underwent gruesome Nazi medical “experiments.” Past-feeling Germans referred to their research subjects, most of whom were very young girls, as kaninchens: rabbits. Rabbits are quiet, tame creatures that aren’t self-destructive. They’re harmless really, but they survive longer than most other small animals. I’m still struggling with man’s inhumanity, can you tell?
Martha Hall Kelley’s debut novel The Lilac Girls revolves around the Ravensbruck rabbits. In the same spirit as Anthony Doerr, Kelley moves between seemingly individual stories that ultimately intertwine one with another. The three narrators are based on actual characters whose lives did eventually converge. You’ll appreciate Caroline Ferriday’s charitable soul. You’ll cringe at Herta Oberheuser’s ugly rationale. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll admire Kasia Kusmerik’s backbone of steel. Kasia’s is the most compelling story—an important reminder that more often than not, beauty emerges after great hardship—a message I’d like to carry through the years.