St. John's Laurys Book Club

Reading books for enjoyment, perspective and discussion

Meets the First Thursday of each month at 6:30pm
     Please use the West Entry Doors and follow the trail of books to the meeting room

Contact Brenda Frantz or Karen-Berry Frantz for more information.

October 4 Meeting
Lilac Girls
by Martha Hall Kelly
Inspired by the life of a real World War II heroine, this debut novel reveals a story of love, redemption, and secrets that were hidden for decades.

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.
 LilacGirls 387
 Martha Hall Kelly 354

I’m an author and native New Englander, still pinching myself since my debut novel Lilac Girls, became a New York Times bestseller the week it was published in April 2016. The novel is historical fiction, based on the true story of 72 Polish women who were imprisoned and experimented on at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp and how Caroline Ferriday, an American philanthropist and former actress brought them to the U.S. for rehabilitation and the trip of a lifetime. I have been researching the story for over ten years and am excited beyond belief to finally share it with the world.

Martha grew up in Massachusetts and now splits her time between Connecticut, New York City and Martha's Vineyard. She worked as an advertising copywriter for many years and raised three splendid children, while researching and writing Lilac Girls, her first novel. She is now hard at work on the prequel, thrilled she doesn't have to say good-bye to Caroline and Eliza.

And coming soon, look for two prequels to Lilac Girls. The first, The Lost Roses, takes place in WWI and tells the story of Caroline’s mother Eliza’s fight to help Russian refugees displaced by the revolution there.

The second prequel takes place during The Civil War and tells the story of Caroline’s ancestors, the incredibly philanthropic Woolsey women, staunch abolitionists who tended to wounded soldiers on the Gettysburg battlefield.

 

There’s so much for book clubs to talk about with Lilac Girls. The debilitating power of guilt. Mothers and daughters. Is it better to forgive or just forget? What does it mean to really love someone? How does it all connect to our current political landscape? And Halina’s ring is always an interesting topic.

Book clubs have done so many creative things at their Lilac Girls meetings. Cooked foods featured in the book (one served the Polish Hunters Stew from Kasia’s wedding chapter), used the Lilac Girls maps as centerpieces and featured lilacs in so many creative ways, including cocktails. I also have a growing collection of book clubs that have re-enacted the book cover, arm in arm. So great!

Musical Inspiration
Here are a few of the songs that inspired scenes in Lilac Girls, and in the case of Emmanuel, the tone of the whole book.
Lilac Girls Music

Discussion Questions for Lilac Girls
1. In what ways do you think the alternating points of view helped to enrich the
narrative? Was there ever a time you when you wished there was only one
narrator? Why or why not?
2. The primary settings of this novel are starkly different – Caroline’s glamorous New
York world of benefits and cultural events, and the bleak reality of life in a
concentration camp. In what ways did the contrast between these two settings
affect your reading experience?
3. Caroline’s relationship with Paul is complicated, taboo even, was there ever a time
when you didn’t agree with a choice Caroline made with regards to Paul? When
and why?
4. As Caroline became more and more invested in her work with the French Families
Fund, and eventually with the “rabbits”, did you feel that she changed in any way?
How were those changes apparent through her interactions with others?
5. Throughout their time in Ravensbruck, Kasia and the other prisoners found subtle,
and not so subtle, ways to demonstrate their resistance. Discuss the variety of
actions they took. Which of them did you find to be most powerful? Most moving?
Most effective?
6. When Kasia learned that they were hunting “rabbits” on page 278 she thought
“Just don’t feel anything.If you are to live, you cannot feel.” Do you agree with this
statement? What do you think it says about the nature of survival? Is it relevant to
any other characters in the book, not just the prisoners?
7. Did you find Herta to be a sympathetic character? Why or why not?
8. When Vilmer Hartman came to visit Ravensbruck he showed concern for Herta’s
mental state. What do you think this revealed about her character? Had you
previously thought about any of the points he made?
9. Though the Nazis made sure the German people only got their news from one
media point of view, Herta’s father continues to read as many newspapers as he
can. Does this relate to media today?
10. Did you feel that Halina’s ring was an important symbol in the book? How did
Herta feel about the ring? Why did she keep it?
11. 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?
12. If you had to come up with a single message or lesson to represent each of the
main characters’ experiences – Caroline, Kasia, Herta – what would it be and why?
13. 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?
14. 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?
15. What do you think the author hoped her readers would take away from this
reading experience?

 

 

November 1 Meeting
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December 6 Meeting
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Past Readings

October 2018 Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
September 2018 The Boys In The Boat by Daniel James Brown
August 2018 The Woman In Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
July 2018 Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
June 2018 The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
May 2018 Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
April 2018 My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt
March 2018 Redemption Road by John Hart
February 2018 No Exit by Taylor Adams
January 2018 Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
December 2017 The Divine Romance by Gene Edwards
November 2017 Magic Hour by Kristen Hannah
October 2017 The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
September 2017 The Silent Wife by Kerry Fisher
August 2017 Still Summer by Jacquelyn Mitchard
July 2017 The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeanette Walls
June 2017 Marrow: A Love Story by Elizabeth Lesser
May 2017 The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
April 2017 The Lake House by Kate Morton
March 2017 The Thirteenth Tale by Dianne Setterfield
February 2017 The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
January 2017 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
December 2016 Skipping Christmas by John Grisham
November 2016 My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman
October 2016 Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
September 2016 Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
August 2016 Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
July 2016  The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
June 2016  The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
May 2016  The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
April 2016  Forgiven by Terri Roberts and Jeanette Windle
March 2016 The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
February 2016 Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
 January 2016  The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult