IN MAY ;;;;, Costco member Martha Hall Kelly, a married mother of three, was
grieving the loss of her mom.
Her husband suggested she
could take Mother’s Day as a
day for herself.
Kelly had treasured a
;;;; Victoria magazine article about the Bellamy-Ferriday House in
Bethlehem, Connecticut; its beautiful garden;
and its late owner, Caroline Ferriday. So she drove
two hours from her then home in Fairfield, and
there she found solace. During a tour, she noticed
a window into the home that revealed a vintage
typewriter and photographs.
“I was drawn to a smaller photograph of ;;
middle-aged ladies lined up in a row,” says Kelly.
She discovered the women had been subjected to
Nazi experiments during World War II.
The trip would result in her debut novel, Lilac
Girls, this month’s Pennie’s Pick. Inspired by
actual events, it reveals the struggles and triumphs of unsung women and terrible secrets
hidden for decades.
“I had a wonderful tour guide,” Kelly says from
her office in Atlanta. “She told me about these
women. Their legs were opened up, and dirt and
bacteria were put in their legs to test the efficacy
of sulfa drugs. The ones who survived hopped
around like rabbits.”
Their story never left her. “On the way home,
I kept thinking how could this story not be
known,” she says.
Kelly felt drawn to the estate’s trove of documents relating to Ferriday and her involvement
with the “rabbits.” She also felt deeply connected
to the place. The unfolding saga inspired her to
keep exploring, with no particular goal or purpose
“I went back every couple of months and
would just check in and look for things I hadn’t
seen already,” Kelly says. “I had no intention of
One day, that changed, too.
A journalism major in college and grad
school who had previously worked in advertising,
Kelly considered writing a novel a daunting
proposition. Married to a television executive,
she had left advertising after having her third
child. One day, after dropping off her youngest,
then a teenager, at high school, she stopped for
her usual morning drive-through cappuccino.
But her routine elixir turned out to be caffeinated
instead of decaffeinated. And the idea that had
been brewing wouldn’t let up. Kelly wrote page
“It felt so good,” she says. “I felt like I had
come out of a coma.”
Lilac Girls is narrated by three voices: Kasia
Kuzmerick, a composite “rabbit” character who
is a Polish political prisoner; Herta Oberheuser,
an actual female Nazi physician; and Caroline
Ferriday, a former actress, philanthropic socialite and Francophile who loved lilacs.
Postwar, Ferriday played an important part
in assisting a group of survivors of Ravensbrück,
the largest Nazi concentration camp for women.
Tortured in pseudoscientific experiments, many
women died. Others were maimed and crippled.
During the ;; years she spent on the project,
Kelly met with Holocaust survivors and conducted
extensive research in Paris, Germany and Poland.
She and her son traveled to Ravensbrück. She also
studied books on writing novels and went to writing workshops.
“It was surreal,” she says. “I thought I might
self-publish and no one would care about this.”
Instead, the book has become a New York
Times best-seller, and Kelly has since landed a
contract for two fact-based prequels. Kelly, who
is still touring for Lilac Girls, is now working on
book two, rewriting history backward. Lilac Girls
is book three in the series. Although musical and
visual prompts (which can be found on her web-
marthahallkelly.com), are part of her process,
caffeine is not.
“I get crazy from [caffeine],” Kelly says. “But
I’m glad I had it the one day.” C
Lisa Alcalay Klug is a regular contributor to The
ONCE AGAIN a weekend of leisurely reading has revealed a
bit of history about which I
knew nothing. All I can do is
thank first-time author Martha
Hall Kelly for this month’s book
buyer’s pick, Lilac Girls.
Inspired by true events,
Lilac Girls tells the story of
New York socialite Caroline
Ferriday, who fought for a
group of concentration camp
survivors known as the
Ferriday, along with a female
Nazi physician and a Polish girl
(a composite based on several
survivors) serve as narrators of
this powerful novel you won’t
You’ll want to share this
book with everyone you know.
Lilac Girls (Item #1144095)
is available now in most
For more book picks,
see page 109.
—Pennie Clark Ianniciello,
Martha Hall Kelly
Hope and love grow from tragedy in Lilac Girls
A story blossoms
Costco has 50 copies of Martha Hall Kelly’s
Lilac Girls with signed book plates to give
away. To enter, go to costcoconnection
NO PURCHASE, PAYMENT OR OPT-IN OF ANY KIND IS
NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN THIS SWEEPS TAKES.
Purchase will not improve odds of winning. Sweepstakes
is sponsored by Costco Wholesale, 1045 Lake Drive,
Issaquah, WA 98027. Open to legal residents of the U. S.
(except Puerto Rico) who are age 18 or older at the time of
entry. One entry per household. Entries must be received
before the June issue is available online, which will happen
around May 26, 2017. Winners will be randomly selected and
noti;ed by mail on or before July 1, 2017.
The value of the prize is $17. Void where prohibited. Winners
are responsible for all applicable federal, state and local
taxes. Odds of winning depend on the number of eligible
entries received. Employees of Costco or Penguin Random
House and their families are not eligible.
SIGNED BOOK GIVEAWAY
OUR DIGITAL EDITIONS
Click here for a video of Martha Hall Kelly
talking about the Ravensbrück rabbits.
(See page 9 for details.)