BOOK TITLE: The Women in the Castle
BOOK AUTHOR: Jessica Shattuck
PUBLISHER: William Morrow
March 28th 2017
GENRES: Historical Fiction
CHECK IT OUT AT: Goodreads
BUY IT: Buy on Amazon
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.
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 resistor 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 naïve Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resistor’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.
When I was reminded The Women in the Castle would be released in paperback on January 2nd, I thought I’d rerun my review from last year.
I mean obviously I loved the book. It made a huge impression on me — so of course I wrote a review.
Except I didn’t.
So I took a look at my Goodreads timeline, and realized I read it the week my mom died.
No wonder I didn’t write a review. No wonder it made such an impression.
A book about incredibly strong women going on after tragedy. It struck a nerve. But, even beyond my own personal tragedy, The Women in the Castle is a fantastic book. Well researched, heartfelt, and real.
At the time, I was hesitant to read another World War II drama about strong women overcoming adversity. My reading history is littered with these books: The Nightingale, Along the Infinite Sea, The Lilac Girls . . . all incredible reads, but I found myself burned out on WWII heroine stories.
But I dove in, mostly because of the premise. I loved the thought of reading a story about WWII women on the wrong side of history (although most of their husbands had died attempting to right the wrongs), rebuilding their lives without men, trying to go on after heartbreak.
The Women in the Castle is a story of survival and truth. I was first drawn to Marianne, the woman who brings the other survivors together. She was the woman tasked with finding the wives of the resistant fighters after the war and bringing them together. But the other women pulled at my heart, showing me that Marianne’s doing the ‘right’ thing and going against your neighbors is easier to do when you have money and privilege. The other women, forced to do what they need to survive, are the more realistic and human, making choices readers probably won’t like but will understand.
I loved the home these women and their children create together, and the forgiveness they also eventually grant each other. Their story is very realistic, showing the dark days during and after the war, and the women and children we normally don’t see as heroes.
I highly recommend The Women in the Castle. Enjoyable, interesting, and smart: a very different take on World War II fiction.