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City of Women Audible – Unabridged

4.2 out of 5 stars 563 customer reviews

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By Ashley Mott VINE VOICE on May 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"City of Women" sounded interesting enough from the description on the product page, but the actually story told within the book's pages is a lot more. There is so much to Sigrid and the other women who populate these pages that this was a hard volume to put down. Honestly, minus a brief break halfway through, I read it all in one sitting because I couldn't NOT find out what was going to become of Sigrid and the other characters.

As I write this, it is approximately 2.5 months until the book's release, so the product page may be updated with more info prior to that date. However, in case it is not, I will offer up a larger synopsis:

The story largely takes place in both 1943 Berlin and in Sigrid's reflections on the months before her husband Kaspar was put into the Army and shipped to Russia and when she was having an affair with a Jewish man she met in a movie theater. Throughout the book Sigrid continues going to work at the patent office, flashing back to former times, and then befriending a young girl in her building named Ericha who is working through an informal underground (in that it never belies a connection to any of the named larger underground groups) that is protecting Jews and other "criminals" from deportation. Ultimately Sigrid becomes part of this group while also befriending the half-brother and half-sister of an SS soldier, entering bomb shelters during air force attacks, and facing increased scrutiny from friends and neighbors...many of whom have informed on others.

The book is completely captivating during this entire journey, but in the last 100 pages or so, the larger back story that even Sigrid is unaware of behind her friends and lovers unravels.

What really ended up making this a five star book for me is how real it felt.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This wasn't an easy book to read. That isn't to say that I didn't enjoy it, but that the characters are dark and joyless and the storyline bleak and desperate. Actually, I was expecting this as it is a novel that takes place in the Germany of WWII -- a place where even aryan Germans are living furtive lives in avoidance of the Gestapo. A place where one wrong word against the government or Fuhrer can get you shipped off to a concentration camp after your neighbor snitches on you. It is in this atmosphere that Sigrid Schroder lives with her mother-in-law while her active-duty husband fights against Russia. She is especially fond of movies and one day in the cinema, meets the Jewish man who will become her lover. The cinema plays a large part in the story as it is also the place where she meets the girl who will suck her into the business of the underground hiding of Jews and is a frequent meeting place between Sigrid and the people who help her along her journey.

As Sigrid becomes more involved with the hiding ring, she begins to learn more about the Jewish man with whom she has fallen in love. When a mother and her two daughters arrive in the hiding place, she is convinced that they are the wife and children of her lover. And when her husband unexpectedly returns, injured, from the Russian front, she must find a way to reconcile her private life of wife and worker with her life of furtiveness, anxiety, and threat of discovery by the Gestapo.

As I said, this wasn't an easy, breezy read ... it took considerable effort on my part, even though I found the story to be an engrossing narrative of German fear, brutality, and eventually, redemption. This was a side of the German people that isn't often written about in fiction; those who were willing to risk everything to help complete strangers escape the Hitler killing machine.
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Format: Hardcover
I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway. I didn't know much about this book prior to reading it, but as I began I was intrigued by a narrative about Berlin during World War II from the point of view of an average German woman. I have read many books detailing the atrocities of the Holocaust and one of the questions those books always left me with was "why didn't anybody stop this" and "didn't anybody notice?"

From this story, it would appear that the answer was, yes, people did notice, but in order to do anything about the deportation of Jewish people to concentration camps it was necessary to have a great deal of courage. This courage was not only in the actual act of helping Jewish people to hide, but even the courage simply to step outside of what was expected and required of you as a good German. In this story, at the beginning, Sigrid is a good German, who works as a typist at the patent office and lives with her mother-in-law while her husband is off fighting in the east. I really enjoyed following her awakening of consciousness as she first forces herself to take notice of the horrors going on around her and then to take action to combat those horrors. I also found it interesting that Sigrid takes some not completely moral actions in her personal life that are stark contrasts to the actions she is taking to help others.

The reason that I only gave this book a three star rating rather than higher, despite really enjoying many parts of the story, was that at times I feel like the book suffered a bit from "Forrest Gump Syndrome". It seems that the author, in his urgency to ensure that many parts of the Germans' experience during this time period is explored, causes things to happen to Sigrid and those around her that seem too unbelievable. I would, however, recommend that anyone interested in the WW II time period read this book. (less)
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