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The Women in the Castle: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 28, 2017
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An Amazon Best Book of April 2017: Much of the buzz touting Jessica Shattuck’s WWII novel, The Women in the Castle, likens it to Kristin Hannah’s wildly popular, The Nightingale. It’s an apt comparison—both feature brave women overcoming nearly unfathomable obstacles. But their association actually made me hesitant to pick it up. Surely the well of enthusiasm for Nazi-related dramas has to be running dry, and if it hasn’t, then an author really needs to “bring it.” Well, that well is still brimming as it turns out, and Ms. Shattuck certainly does. The women referred to in the title are widows of three conspirators involved in the assassination attempt on Hitler. Marianne von Lingenfels, whose moneyed pedigree has protected her from the more unsavory punishments of the war, has been tasked with locating the other resistance widows, and ensuring their safety. But she is no superhero. Along with the naïve Benita and inscrutable Ania, they represent the everyday, ordinary Germans swept up in the extraordinary, who survived as best they could when the right thing to do wasn’t always clear (or even an option). If you’re curious about what it was like to be a typical citizen during this time--if you struggle to comprehend how a society could become a breeding ground for Hitler’s brand of evil, The Women in the Castle offers some insight. It also draws some chilling parallels to things brewing in the political climate today. Jessica Shattuck has provided a worthy addition to the canon of great WWII literature, one that answers why the appetite for this genre has not abated: In many ways, we still haven’t learned the lessons that history has to teach us. --Erin Kodicek, The Amazon Book Review
“If you love historical fiction, this is your must-read book: It’s captivating, fascinating, and incredibly faithful to the events as they happened, and Jessica Shattuck reveals an entirely new side of what it’s like to be a woman in wartime.” (Newsweek)
“Moving . . . Shattuck’s achievement—beyond unfolding a plot that surprises and devastates—is in her subtle exploration of what a moral righteousness looks like in the aftermath of the war, when communities and lives must be rebuilt, together.” (New York Times Book Review)
“A masterful epic.” (People Magazine)
“A poignant, World War II page-turner.” (Marie Claire)
“Offers a mesmerizing new look at the aftermath of the war . . . with insight and empathy, The Women in the Castle stands tall among the literature that reveals new truths about one of history’s most tragic eras.” (USA Today)
“If you’re a historical fiction fan, this will be your new favorite novel of 2017. It’s so emotionally powerful there’s a chance the literary-induced chills will stay with you well into summer.” (Redbook Magazine, 20 Books By Women You Must Read This Spring)
“Fans of The Nightingale and other classic World War II stories will fall in love with this compelling new perspective on women at war.” (Helen Simonson, New York Times bestselling author of The Summer Before the War and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand)
“Riveting and emotional, The Women in the Castle is a WWII story like you’ve never seen before.” (Bustle)
“For your friend who loves a good war drama. About a woman who plays castle with other war widows across Germany post WWII.” (The Skimm)
“A virtuoso of time and place, Jessica Shattuck has created a heart-smashingly good story that will change the way you look at current events, and leave you asking, ‘What would I do if I were in these characters’ shoes?’ Powerful and prescient, an important book everyone should read.” (Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Songs of Willow Frost)
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Marianne, Benita, and Ania, are the surviving wives of men who participated in the July 20, 1944, failed assassination attempt on Hitler (aka as Operation Valkyrie). Marianne, the strongest and the leader, promised to take care of the wives and children of the would-be assassins (all executed). In a rustic "castle" in northern Germany, the three very different women, with very different backgrounds and war-time experiences, band together to protect their children and each other in the chaotic days following the defeat of the Nazis.
I won't outline to plot except to say that the story is immediately interesting, and provides suspense and mystery as it unfolds over the course of several years. As a piece of historical fiction I learned some things I hadn't known. For example, just after the war and before the Cold War got into full-swing, there was a "Sprunkammer" or a "denazification council" that assigned Germans (including ex-Nazis) to groups based on their "guilt" and they were officially sanctioned accordingly. Shattuck's novel is well-researched and it spun me off on several illuminating Wikipedia trails.
One big question the novel asks is, can you love someone without knowing or caring what atrocities they may have committed in the past? Can one truly have a fresh start? Can it be deserved? Walking down the street in Germany after the war, what kinds of suspicions would one harbor? Did that man execute Jewish children? Did that woman rat out her neighbor? It's a fascinating time and place in history. I also HIGHLY recommend: "City of Women" by David Gillham, and "Skeletons at the Feast" by Chris Bohjalian.
I liked the unique perspective of this WWII fiction occurring primarily during post-war Germany. It highlights the choices and actions of German citizens during WWII. Some chose the path of resistance and some chose to support the Nazi party. Post-war, they must come to terms with their secrets and actions and try to move on. If they can they move on.
It's a really unique book, so I wish I would have enjoyed it more. The first half of the story was slow and tedious and it took a long time to really connect with the characters. I nearly bailed on the story. Overall, it was just an okay read for me.
I wanted to fall in love with at least one of the characters along the way but unfortunately, I did not. I think that even through the faults of certain characters you can come to love them but none of the characters did that for me. Maybe it was supposed to be reflective of the “cold” German persona, but having had wonderful German grandmother, I would have liked to see some warmth. I believe it would have been a nice contrast to the circumstances going on at the time. That’s what it was missing for me.
I did enjoy this read, overall. It painted more of an intimate picture than I have ever experienced from a novel taking place in this era and for that I am grateful to have invested my time.