Published March 2017 by Harper Collins Publishers
Source: bought for my Nook
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 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.
I read this with the Omaha Bookworms* last month. It wasn't exactly what any of us had been expecting (maybe because we didn't entirely read through the synopsis); but we all liked the story the book does tell.
This was another one of those books about World War II that surprised me by giving me a view of that war that I've never read about before. Shattuck raises a lot of questions in The Women In The Castle. What of the German people in the aftermath, those who supported the German war machine and those who opposed it? And how do they live with each other after what has happened? And how do people live with the things they've done to survive?
As much as I disliked the Germans for what they did during the war, it's the Russians who really come off as the bad guys here as they literally rape, pillage, and plunder their way across what's left of Germany. I'm not naive enough to believe that American soldiers didn't commit some atrocities as they moved across the lands of the conquered enemies, but the Russians seem to have taken their revenge for what was done to their people by German soldiers and their leaders.
One of the things that grabbed me about this book was how often this piece of history mirrored our current political situation.
"For so long Marianne and Albrecht and many of their friends had known Hitler was a lunatic, a leader whose lowbrow appeal to people's most selfish, self-pitying emotions and ignorance was an embarrassment for their country. They had watched him make a masterwork of scapegoating Jews for Germany's fall from power and persuade his followers that enlightenment, humanity, and tolerance were weaknesses - "Jewish" ideas that led to defeat. They had wrung their hands over his dangerous conflations, his fervor, and his lack of humanity."These ladies have stayed with me; a month after reading the book, I'm still thinking about them and their strength and their pain.
*This is a terrific book club selection, with a lot to talk about including the ties to current times, the bonds the women forged, the ways they survived and the truth of the history in the book. We definitely recommend it for other book clubs.