Book Review: The Women in the Castle

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

From the publisher:
Three women, haunted by the past and the secrets they hold

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.

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This was a stunningly written book. Not only is the cover gorgeous, but the story inside is as well. I was immediately drawn in to this historical world. I don't know how much of this story was based on real events, real situations, or real people, but I do know that Shattuck makes them feel incredibly real. It's difficult to realistically portray the reactions and emotions of someone who has been through a horrible experience, but it is done incredibly well here. 

These characters have lost so many people, have been abused or have starved, and have lived in fear for years. They're all incredibly broken in different ways, but they continue to love deeply and to fight for their lives to return. Shattuck's choice to zoom in on the lives of these three women is a great one. It takes a story with huge scope and gives it some clarity and incredible depth. Her descriptions are beautiful and moving, and this book is absolutely heart wrenching. 

It's very rare that I come across a book written about WWII in the perspective of our "enemies" in that war. In this case the German perspective is fascinating; to see how these women, all German but all resistors of Hitler's leadership and atrocities, think about Americans, fellow Germans, Russians, and so on. It says so much about the mindset of the other side of a story that we've heard so many times. American history books tell the story from our side and our side only. Reading books like this is so important because it presents a much needed shift in our thoughts about the most documented war of all time. It's so crucial to expand horizons to other perspectives as an American student who gets very little of the other side of the story. And Shattuck writes so well that it's really impossible not to love this book. 
It's amazing, and you should read it. 

I received an advanced copy of this book from TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review. Check out the rest of the tour here!

1 comment:

  1. !!! I think it's so important to try to see things from our 'enemies' perspective, even if it's many years later. It gives us an empathy that I think is important.

    Thank you for being on this tour!