Friday, April 14, 2017

Book Review - The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

Book Synopsis
Set at the end of World War II, in a crumbling Bavarian castle that once played host to all of German high society, a powerful and propulsive story of three widows whose lives and fates become intertwined—an affecting, shocking, and ultimately redemptive novel from the author of the New York Times Notable Book The Hazards of Good Breeding. 

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.

Written with the devastating emotional power of The Nightingale, Sarah’s Key, and The Light Between Oceans, Jessica Shattuck’s evocative and utterly enthralling novel offers a fresh perspective on one of the most tumultuous periods in history. Combining piercing social insight and vivid historical atmosphere, The Women in the Castle is a dramatic yet nuanced portrait of war and its repercussions that explores what it means to survive, love, and, ultimately, to forgive in the wake of unimaginable hardship.


Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble


My Review

The Women in the Castle tells the story of three women, all German widows after World War II.  Marianne is the wife of a resistance fighter.  She promised her husband she would help the wives of other resisters.  Benita was married to Marianne's best friend from childhood.  She is beautiful and naive.  Ania was liberated from a camp at the end of the war.  All of these women have children.  They come together to share their lives in an old castle. 


The stories of these women intertwine.  The book moves back and forth in time - before the war, during the war, and after the war.  It has an intriguing manner of storytelling where little bits of the women's individual stories are told in different narratives.  As you read on, the details are filled in.


Jessica Shattuck does a masterful job at delineating these characters.  They are well developed and very different from each other.  She also does a fine job at the transitions of time in this novel.


I am fascinated by the World War II time period and enjoy fiction set during the 1940's.  This novel, set in Germany, deals with very dark times and the details are often disturbing.  (As an animal lover and vegetarian there was a scene involving a horse that was very hard to read.)


There are also moments of beauty, like the gifts that the German children in these families receive from American Quakers.  I found this so moving: 


"They were full of fabulous items:  oranges, toothbrushes, andy bars, a tin of something called Kraft cheese, and chewing gum.  These were accompanied by handwritten cards from Amerian hildren - pictures drawn in bright wax crayons.  Martin's card had a drawing of a fat brown-and-white cat with a red-and-white striped bow.  It read As a token of our country's goodwill and it was signed by Amy (age eight) and Roger (age six).  Martin tried to imagine Amy and Roger and the box of colors they used to create this card.  He pictured them wearing crisp store-bought clothing and new shoes with thick soles and no worn-out places.  He was sure they each owned their own bicycle and left food uneaten on their plates.  Martin pictured this not so much with envy as with wonder -- what an amazing thing to be an American!" (p. 141).


The Women in the Castle offers a unique look at history, powerfully told.  It is unique, moving, often heartbreaking, and unforgettable.

Author Bio
Jessica Shattuck is the award-winning author of The Hazards of Good Breeding, which was a New York Times Notable Book and finalist for the PEN/Winship Award, and Perfect Life. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, New Yorker, Glamour, Mother Jones, Wired, and The Believer, among other publications. A graduate of Harvard University, she received her MFA from Columbia University. She lives with her husband and three children in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Find out more about Jessica at her website and connect with her on Facebook.

I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours.


Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

Thanks for being a part of the tour!

trish said...

I love seeing moments of beauty in amongst the tragedy. It gives me hope.