Title: The Women in the Castle
Author: Jessica Shattuck
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: March 28th, 2017
Length: 400 pages | 12 hours, 40 minutes
Source: Won from Goodreads
Amid the ashes of Nazi Germany s defeat, Marianne von Lingenfels returns to the once-grand castle of her husband s ancestors, an imposing stone fortress now fallen into ruin following years of war. The widow of a resister murdered in the failed July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Marianne plans to uphold the promise she made to her husband s brave conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows.
First Marianne rescues six-year-old Martin, the son of her dearest childhood friend, from a Nazi reeducation home. Together, they make their way across the smoldering wreckage of their homeland to Berlin, where Martin s mother, the beautiful and naive Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resister s wife, and her two boys, now refugees languishing in one of the many camps that house the millions displaced by the war.
As Marianne assembles this makeshift family from the ruins of her husband s resistance movement, she is certain their shared pain and circumstances will hold them together. But she quickly discovers that the black-and-white, highly principled world of her privileged past has become infinitely more complicated, filled with secrets and dark passions that threaten to tear them apart. Eventually, all three women must come to terms with the choices that have defined their lives before, during, and after the war each with their own unique share of challenges.
I’m not usually a big fan of WWII-era historical fiction, mainly because it always leaves me feeling depressed. But this one was well worth the aftermath. It did a phenomenal job of establishing the environment in which Hitler rose to power and was able to implement such horrific acts. It’s easy, from the perspective of the past, to assume everyone who believed in his rhetoric was racist, or ignorant, or just generally a bad person. But, of course, that’s a gross oversimplification of a situation was *must* understand, lest we repeat it.
And you guys, reading some of the character musings on Hitler’s programs, how he normalized horrible things…it hit pretty damned close to home. That wasn’t even the focus of the book, it was just so powerful and well done that I fixated on it. This situation in which both ignorant peasants and educated elite agree with wonderful ideals that become darker and less idealistic over time. (Hitler’s early toutings for landjahr, for instance, revolved around physical fitness, learning sustainable practices like farming, community, and music…that eventually clearly evolved into a more militaristic Hitler Youth situation, and his fixation on making children physically brutal)
So this is all reflected in the book, in the background. The primary story revolves around three widows, and their children, and a handful of years at the end and after WWII as they struggle to make their own community, survive, and essentially re-learn how to trust. The chief element is their humanity- all have regrets, impossible hopes, unrealistic standards, guilt and shame, etc. They are each incredibly relatable and real. And the story has enough bittersweet in it that for a time I wondered if it was partly based in the real life of someone the author knows.
If you can’t tell from my rambling, I was impressed by the book and I recommend it to fans of fiction in general. Especially if you like historic fiction and/or bittersweet tales.
I’m a coffee-fueled, hobby-addicted bibliophage who makes cruelty-free mineral eye shadows (inspired by novels). I’m usually in front of a screen (writing, reading, or gaming), but I’ve been known to emerge for geekery, good food, and dark chocolate.