Resistance Women is a powerful historical novel about four women in Berlin during the 1930's and 1940's. As they come together in friendship, they also become involved in the Resistance movement against Hitler and the Nazi party. The women are professor and scholar Mildred Harnick, who was originally from Wisconsin but moved to Berlin with her German husband, Greta Kuckoff, a German writer with a complicated personal life, Martha Dodd, the daughter of Ambassador William Dodd, and literature student, Sara Weiss, who is a Jewish woman in these dangerous times.
I wanted to read this book because I love historical fiction and have long been fascinated with the World War II era. I previously read (and enjoyed) the nonfiction book In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, which was about Martha Dodd's family in Berlin 1933 - 1937, so her presence in this book intrigued me.
This is a dense, history-rich novel. It begins in 1929 and spans through 1946. The author does a remarkable job of slowly setting the stage for what happens in Germany in the 1930's. Early on I found the book a bit slow moving as it traveled through times leading up to the war. In retrospect, though, I think this background really added so much to the story. By starting in happier times and seeing life before the Nazi party really took hold and before the war, readers gets a unique look at how this tragic period in history unfolded.
The novel is told in alternating chapters by the four women. I made the mistake of looking up their names before reading the book, so I knew the stories of the real life women. I would not recommend doing this! Sara is the only one of the Resistance women who was fictional, and I have to say that I was most interested in her story. It was heartbreaking and often suspenseful reading how her life changed as a Jewish woman in Berlin in the 1930's, from a graduate student and daughter of a wealthy banker to someone forced to wear the Star of David and make due with cramped accomodations and scant food.
The glamorous Ambassador's daughter, Martha Dodd, adds some interesting moments in the story, including a forbidden romance with a Russian man and a horrifying arranged date with Hitler!
Mildred's story is compelling because we see the events of Germany from the eyes of an American woman living overseas, teaching American literature in Germany. Although she had many opportunites to return home to America, she was loyal to her husband and committed to the Resistance cause.
Greta was the most enigmatic of the characters to me. She was a student, a writer, and much of her life was absorbed in a complicated relationship with a married man who had been married over time to two sisters. She had a strong friendship with Mildred, and was especially brave with risky Resistance jobs.
This is such a powerful, moving book and I found it very engrossing. I read late into the night several evenings and found time here and there during the day to read a little more, just because I really cared about these characters and their story and I really wanted to know what happened.
I recommend Resistance Women for fans of historical fiction, and especially for anyone interested in World War II. This is a beautifully written novel that you will think about long after you finish reading.
One of BookBub’s best historical novels of the year and Oprah magazine’s buzziest books of the month.
From the New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, an enthralling historical saga that recreates the danger, romance, and sacrifice of an era and brings to life one courageous, passionate American—Mildred Fish Harnack—and her circle of women friends who waged a clandestine battle against Hitler in Nazi Berlin.
After Wisconsin graduate student Mildred Fish marries brilliant German economist Arvid Harnack, she accompanies him to his German homeland, where a promising future awaits. In the thriving intellectual culture of 1930s Berlin, the newlyweds create a rich new life filled with love, friendships, and rewarding work—but the rise of a malevolent new political faction inexorably changes their fate.
As Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party wield violence and lies to seize power, Mildred, Arvid, and their friends resolve to resist. Mildred gathers intelligence for her American contacts, including Martha Dodd, the vivacious and very modern daughter of the US ambassador. Her German friends, aspiring author Greta Kuckoff and literature student Sara Weitz, risk their lives to collect information from journalists, military officers, and officials within the highest levels of the Nazi regime.
For years, Mildred’s network stealthily fights to bring down the Third Reich from within. But when Nazi radio operatives detect an errant Russian signal, the Harnack resistance cell is exposed, with fatal consequences.
Inspired by actual events, Resistance Women is an enthralling, unforgettable story of ordinary people determined to resist the rise of evil, sacrificing their own lives and liberty to fight injustice and defend the oppressed.
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Jennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of several acclaimed historical novels and the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin.
Find out more about Jennifer at her website, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours.