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The Lilac Tree :
An enduring novel of love fowering in the ruins of Berlin, 1945

by Nicolette Maleckar

"A terrific story, beautifully written, with many remarkable characters. I miss them now that I've finished reading the book." - Maddy De Leon,

Alone for the first time in her life, beguiling young Hanne Goldshmidt must find her own way. Homeless and hungry, Hanne is plucked from a crowd of ragged survivors and, by sheer good fortune, is given a golden chance to start a new life. But falling in love with her dashing benefactor puts Hanne right in the thick of his risky, clandestine schemes.

An incandescent story of the first blush of love in an impossible time, filled with an indomitable spirit of hope and joy.

Nicolette Maleckar, nee Zweig, was born in 1926 in Breslau, Germany. In 1939, she was sent to England in one of the children's transports arranged by the Quakers. From 1945 to 1947, she worked as a translator and interpreter for the United States Military Government in Berlin, where The Lilac Tree takes place.

Nicolette Maleckar lives with her husband on a mountaintop in West Virginia.

I left Germany on one of the last children's transports to England in August, 1939, and came back in November, 1945 as a civilian employee of the American army. My aim when applying for the job was the crazy hope that I might find surviving family members. Amazingly, my mother had survived due to her gritty determination, the heroic efforts of friends, and a great deal of luck.

Lilac Tree grew out of my admittedly selective memories of a surreal experience. The Berlin I had left was cruel and frightening: It had been hard to find anyone who had a kind word for Jews. I came back six years later to a pile of rubble with small enclaves of normalcy. The hatred towards Jews was still palpable, but nicely hidden under the requisite protestations of hatred for the Nazis.

The plight of the Berliners in their unheated, bomb-damaged homes was heartbreaking. You could smell their hunger. Hunger had a distinct smell and it was everywhere. And there I was, well-dressed in a marvelous American uniform, better fed than I had been in years. The PX made available unbelievable luxuries, including two cartons of cigarettes a week. A non-smoker, I found myself rich. Cigarettes could buy anything. I knew one fellow who bought an excellent piano for twelve cartons of Lucky Strikes.


  1. How does Paul's own background affect his relationship to Hanne?
  2. What do you think about Paul changing Hanne's name to "Honey?"
  3. Time and time again, Paul is offended by vulgarity, and seems to want Honey to keep from losing her well-bred manner. What do you make of this?
  4. The book shows us many characters whose lives are altered forever by the destruction of their way of life. (Honey, Paul, Ulrike, Princess Lydia Ivanovna, FraĆ¼lein Stulp, Mimi Krall, Herr Scholte, Ingelore, Petya, Ulla Printz, Sister Celestine, Hanne's mother, and grandparents) Who seems to be best at adapting? Who seems most wounded?
  5. What traits does the author seem to value most in her characters? What traits seem to aid survival?
  6. What do you think of Paul's gift to Honey of the lilac tree? What is Paul's attitude later, towards the tree? How does this contrast with Rip's attitude toward the tree?
  7. What kinds of gifts does Paul give Honey, in general?
  8. What kinds of gifts does Rip proffer?
  9. Many of the characters in the book engage in black market activites. Ulrike won't even take paper money for providing a service, she insists that Hanne fork over a potato. Rip gives away cigarettes and chocolate. What, if anything, is the difference between these activities and what Paul does? Where should one draw the line between keeping law and order, and doing what one must in order to survive? Is it ever alright to break the law?
  10. How does the story that Rip tells about his mother being adopted by the teacher parallel Hanne's story?
  11. Different people tell different lies during the course of the book for different reasons. Is it ever okay to lie?
  12. Is Paul right when he claims that Honey is just like her mother, Claudia? In what ways is she alike, and different?
  13. Looking back, do you think that Paul's relationship with Honey was a mistake or a blessing?
  14. Looking ahead, what do you think are the chances for happiness for Rip and Hanne; an earthy backwoods boy, and a cultured European waif?



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