Tag: worldwar

Book Review: Lilac Girls (Martha Hall Kelly).

Lilac Girls

– Martha Hall Kelly.

This is a book I have been meaning to read for a while but it wasn’t easy to find. Finally, I read it and it was worth the wait. Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly is set in the time before, during, and after World War II. The story of this novel is based on a true account of Caroline Ferriday, a socialite in New York who helped the Polish women of Ravensbruck camp. The story of Lilac Girls focuses on three main characters – Kasia, Caroline, and Herta who come from different backgrounds and countries but their lives intersect. Caroline helps the medical experiment survivors from Ravensbruck by bringing them for treatment to America almost a decade after the war is over.

Caroline is an ex-actress who comes from a wealthy family and volunteers at the French Consulate in New York City before the war. Caroline and her family have a strong sense of their French roots and enjoy many traditions of their culture. It is also the reason Caroline works dedicatedly at the consulate. Kasia is an 18-year-old girl living happily with her family and friends in Lublin, Poland until Nazi Germany invades Poland on 1st September in 1939 and her life is turned upside down. Herta is studying medicine in Nazi Germany and dreams of being a surgeon but there are restrictions for women in the medical field under the Reich. She is ambitious and determined from the very beginning and has complete faith in Hitler’s vision for her country.

The story is pretty straightforward in terms of timelines and events. The novel is divided into three parts. The first part gives an insight into the background of the characters and this really helped me understand the motivations and personalities of these women. The second part was difficult to read because the main focus of this is the course of their lives during the war. It is not outwardly described in a gory or violent way but it is more about the emotional reactions which get to you. The third part of the story is Caroline, Kasia, and Herta’s life after the war ends.

The characters in the book are what make this novel unique. Caroline does everything in her power to help French children during the war. She does so at a personal cost at times and even when things turn hopeless she keeps doing what she does because she knows this is the least she can do to help. Kasia is a rebellious girl but she wants to help change the situation in Poland. She starts helping the Polish underground in Lublin with the help of her friend and her crush Pietrik. One day she is followed by a German officer after doing an assignment she begs Pietrik for and is arrested. Kasia’s mother and sister Zuzzana, Pietrik, and his sister Luiza who have come to collect the envelope from Kasia are all arrested along with her.

Ravensbruck is where Kasia ends up with her sister and mother, a labor camp in Germany for women. I didn’t know much about this camp and the medical experiments conducted there until I read this book. These women stick together, helping each other stay safe that too at a personal cost. It’s heartwarming to see them help each other this way in a situation where one wrong move meant your death. The experiments were inhumane and the way is written makes us understand the gravity of it. It is at the camp that Kasia’s mother, Halina, is taken under Herta’s wing as a nurse and where Halina dies. This is the only time Herta shows some emotion. Herta is not a fictional character and is based on a camp doctor in Ravensbruck. She believes in what she is doing and it seems like she doesn’t care but somewhere deep down she feels a little remorse for her actions. Most of the time though she is detached and cold focusing only on her medical research with no thought of the human cost.

Caroline has a personal connection to France during the war, a married actor she falls in love with named Paul who is also taken to a camp when France is invaded but survives. Kasia comes back with her sister to Lublin where their father still lives and has trouble adjusting to normal life. She finds Pietrik and he is having a hard time too but Kasia is trying to forget but her guilt about her mother makes her angrier and angrier. Pietrik and Kasia get married and have a daughter who is named Halina after her mother but Kasia doesn’t want her to be named Halina. She snaps at everyone about the tiniest things but slowly realizes she needs to let go. With Caroline’s insistence, Kasia goes to Germany to confront Herta who was released early from prison. Once she confronts Herta and finds out what happened to her mother at the camp that she is finally able to move on with her life and leave all the darkness behind.

Martha Hall Kelly has been able to give a lot of heart to the story through her characters. Kasia and her family are the fictional characters but the story revolves around them in a way and, they are instrumental in telling the story of those Polish women who suffered at Ravensbruck during the war and treated unjustly after the war. It is a beautiful and inspiring story yet it is so sad and heartbreaking.

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Book Review: We Were the Lucky Ones (Georgia Hunter).

We Were the Lucky Ones

— Georgia Hunter

The title of the book is what caught my eye and I have been meaning to read this book for months now. It is a fictionalized account of a true story about the author’s family which I found out after I was finished reading it. We Were the Lucky Ones is a book set during World War II about the Kurc family, who are well assimilated Polish Jews and their survival during the holocaust.

The story begins in the spring of 1939 in Poland and France when it seems imminent that something that has been looming for the past few years is finally here. The whole family gets a point of view, as they narrate the story through their perspectives and respective circumstances. The parents are Nechuma and Sol; their daughters Halina and Mila and three sons Genek, Jakob and Addy, and not including the spouses and extended family. Except for Addy who is in France, all the others are living in Radam, Poland at the beginning of the war.


As I mentioned before, the narrative shift from one family member to another which takes the reader to different places and times and even countries. In the beginning, it was a little difficult to keep track of the characters as each chapter has a new narrator but as the story progresses it makes sense why the author decided to do this. There is a uniqueness to each character that clearly comes through the writing and you can feel their pain and helplessness throughout. The story goes from Poland to France to Siberia even to the Middle East and South America.


The descriptions of their situations are stated more as facts that pack a punch for a reader and the characters are just reacting to their circumstances. Addy, who hasn’t seen his family since before the war constantly thinks about them, not knowing if they are alive or not and whether he will ever get to see them again. I liked the spirit and realistic emotional impact of each character as they do what they have to in order to survive and it is heartbreaking to read about their struggles.

The part of the story which takes place in the ghetto is extremely difficult to read; a lot of the story is difficult to read but that part where Mila decides to leave the ghetto with her daughter and a few others for work and what follows that decision was completely unexpected and a little uncomfortable to read. The family keeps thinking about the happier times of their home in Radom and of each other fondly which gives them a little hope in such times and its fascinating to me that no matter how bad the situation, the perseverance to survive is there


I didn’t know it was based on a true story till I got to the very end of the story where the author has written a detailed epilogue of sorts of her family and their survival and the impact it had on them. They lost a lot of their extended family during the war and everything else familiar to them but they survived. By the time I finished reading the story, the title of the novel made complete sense. It is a heartbreaking and emotional ride and even more so since it is based on a true story. I finished this book over the weekend; it is emotionally draining but I liked the book

Book Review: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (John Boyne).

The boy in the striped pyjamas

By John Boyne

I have been on a historical novel reading spree for a while now. This book has been on my radar because of its World War II setting. I wanted to read this book for so long, years actually. I finally read it and I am still reeling from it a little bit.

The boy in striped pyjamas is a Holocaust novel set during World War II. The two main characters of the story are Bruno and Shmuel who share the same birthday are 9 years old. The story is narrated from Bruno’s point of view. Bruno’s family is well off, his father is in the army in Nazi Germany and they live in Berlin. Bruno’s father is promoted to Commandant and they have to move from Berlin to concentration camp Bruno calls ‘Out-With’.


The narration of the story through Bruno is a great idea. He is 9-year-old and he doesn’t understand what is going around him. There is an innocence and purity in the narration because Bruno is an innocent child. He is distraught about leaving his life, friends and grandparents in Berlin and like any child would especially when he doesn’t understand the circumstances. He doesn’t like the new house, there are no kids around except his sister and he wonders about the camp he can see his from his window. His character is relatable as he is always seeking adventure and likes exploring. It is this curiosity that leads to Bruno meeting Shmuel.


Bruno and Shmuel become friends almost instantly. There is a sharp contrast in the life of Bruno and Shmuel and it is depicted in a heartbreaking way. Bruno is living in a big house with his family and has access to all necessities. While Shmuel lives in the concentration camp in terrible conditions. It was difficult for me to read the dialogues for Shmuel. This little boy has been through so much and seen things no 9-year-old should see. Bruno doesn’t understand Shmuel’s world but he feels bad for him. Their friendship is so innocent, Bruno sneaks food out of his house because he realizes Shmuel is very thin and sickly.


The end of the book was devastating, it was hard to control the tears after that ending. I know the book has some inaccuracies especially with the way the boys meet but it doesn’t take anything away from the story as a whole. It is a very good book and it is different in a way as the protagonists’ characters are kids, their point of view is completely different. The horrors of the Holocaust during World War II are depicted in a sensitive manner in this book and gives a sense of that horrible time in history. The pace of the plot is fairly quick and doesn’t drag on at any point.


Even though the book is targeted for younger audiences, it is recommended for readers of all ages. I might not read the book again because I don’t think I’ll be able to but it is a must read. Now that I have read the book, I am going to see the movie based on it.

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Books based on the World Wars – My Favorites.

Reading books with historical themes is an enduring and satisfying experience for me because I like history in general. I found a lot of literature based on and around the time of the World Wars and these books are some of the best books I have read. The central theme of these books might revolve around and during a World war but these books have so much more to offer.

1) A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway.

Ernest Hemingway’s this novel is set during the World War I and its protagonist is an American soldier stationed on the Italian front. Its main focus is on the love affair between our protagonist Henry and an English nurse Catherine during the times of the war. The story is unpredictable with a mix of interesting characters. Once I started reading this book I realized it is not what I expected but it exceeded my expectations. The writing is beautiful and to the point; you through every emotion along with the characters.

 

2) Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank.

I read this book for the first time when I was 15 when we studied the Second World War in history class. Reading it again seven years later there were a lot of factors which I hadn’t thought about or understood when I read it as a teen. Anne’s beliefs, her perspectives on life were so different and unique; she was far more mature for her age. It’s a beautiful book in form of letters Anne writes in her diary. The end of her letters in abrupt which makes you wonder what happened to her after that; thankfully my copy has an elaborate afterword which didn’t exactly make me feel better after reading it.

 

3) Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetyus.

This book was a rollercoaster experience. The historical context of this book is Baltic Deportations during World War II; it was something I hardly knew anything about or read anything related to. The book is heartbreaking yet there is a sense of optimism especially in the characters of the story. As I said in my review of this book, for me, the characterization in the novel is something else and it makes you care about each of them.

 

4) All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr.

The book is set in Nazi-occupied France during the World War II. The protagonists of the novel are a French blind girl Marie and a German boy Werner. The book is such a page-turner, it’s hard to keep it down because you need to know what happens next. The book is slightly longer than it should have been, at least I thought so but its really good. The bond between Marie and her father is so beautiful and her connection with Werner is so strong in such a short span of time. It is just a really good book.

 

I am sure there are many more books set around the time of the World Wars which are equally good or even better. The books I mentioned above are my personal favorites of this genre though there are still a number of books on my historical ‘want to read’ pile.

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Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetyus: Book review

My review of the book,

“Between Shades of Gray” – Ruta Sepetys

*SPOILERS*

I found this book when I was browsing through the lists of War and Historical novels on different site. This book immediately caught my attention because it takes place during the World War II and it’s about a Lithuanian girl. Now when it comes to studying the history of World War II, the Baltic States were never more than mentioned in textbooks. Basically, this is a part of History which I never read or studied about before and it completely fascinated me.

The book is about Baltic Deportations with the main focus on Lithuanian citizens who were deported by the Soviet in 1941 to prison and labor camps. The protagonist of the story is a fifteen-year-old girl named Lina and her family when they are taken from their home and sent to a labor camp somewhere in Siberia. Lina and her mother and brother are together while their father is separated from them that night. The author doesn’t spend much time focusing on the lives of Lina and her family when they were still at home together in the beginning and starts straight up with the night they are taken away. The story is not by any means an easy read.

The descriptions of the treatments these prisoners were given and their living conditions are crudely depicted; there is no sugar-coating just the harsh reality. It makes you cringe while reading it. The emotions of the characters and their reactions to the harsh situation they face are very realistically and naturally portrayed. It never seems out of place or over the top because there are so many characters which are important to the plot and each character’s personality is reflected in the writing.

Lina, her mother Elena and her younger brother Jonas have to learn to survive through brutal conditions with people who share a similar faith to them. Elena is a powerful character as she holds their little group together throughout the terrible ordeal and is incredibly kind. Andrius is a guy who Lina and her family meet on the cattle train on the way to Siberia. He is sort of a love interest for Lina though that is never the main focus and he is so much more than that. Lina is a good artist and is constantly capturing their stories on paper in drawings and sketches. She draws in hope of leaving clues behind for their father to find them and also preserve their stories and sufferings.

It is unbelievable to expect such kindness and care in such situations but throughout the story, all the characters help each other survive and are always kind to one another no matter how little they themselves have. It shows that even in worst situations compassion and kindness actually help someone survive. At no point, Lina gives up or thinks that she doesn’t want to live anymore even though the circumstances keep getting worse. These characters show so much spirit and survival instinct all the while helping each other through it.

This book breaks your heart from start to finish and it is quite difficult to get through because of the powerful depictions. The plot moves ahead at a good pace with flashbacks about the life before capture which somehow is parallel to Lina’s present in the camp. Lina’s drawings in a way preserve the memories of fellow survivors and their sufferings, the stories which were unheard of for decades that followed. The stories about the Baltic states are largely unheard of and this book depicts the displacement and genocide of people who were deported by the Soviet Union. It is a hard-hitting book but it is a book which you should read, it is a part of history which is relatively unknown to many.

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