Book Review

“The Women in the Castle” by Jessica Shattuck

“This is why people have children, even when they believe the world is going to hell, even when life is nothing but uncertainty. In hopes of being understood.” (p 339)

image002Description: 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 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.

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“The Women in the Castle” tells the story of how three German women were thrown together and survived WWII. Aptly named, these women camped out in a castle previously in main character Marianne’s family. Marianne was a force to be reckoned with from the beginning. In a time where women were kept in the dark about “men’s work,” Marianne was the only wife to know about her husband’s plan to take down Hitler.

Marianne’s husband Albrecht worked with a large group of like-minded men within Germany that formed a resistance beneath Hitler’s rule. When it became clear that Hitler could not be stopped, they set out to assassinate them. Their failed attempt triggered their executions and Marianne’s endeavor to protect the wives of the other resistors in Albrecht’s network. Marianne brings together two other women – Benita and Ania – and their respective children. This makeshift family grew together over the years and were bound together long after the war ended.

An acclaimed author, Jessica Shattuck delved into a narrative that has rarely been discussed. Most novels focus on the allies and those who opposed Hitler, but very few that I’ve read so far go behind enemy lines to talk about life from a German standpoint, particularly for a group of women from various backgrounds.

Of course, “The Women in the Castle” was exceedingly compared to “The Nightingale.” “The Nightingale” is quite possibly my all-time favorite book, but this comparison has increasingly become a pet peeve of mine because it sets up unrealistically high expectations and the only common thread is that they are both novels about women surviving during WWII.

The two books are wholly different and “The Women in the Castle” focuses more on family and friendship than heroic acts of defiance. It’s easy to understand how Marianne and “her women” became a family during the war, but the most interesting part of this novel to me was the years after the war and the friendships that developed. Seeing how each woman changed, evolved, and tried to move on from their pasts was incredibly moving and realistic. The story lagged at times going into an in-depth history lesson, but one that is so important to read and understand because it is so seldom considered.

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ABOUT JESSICA SHATTUCK:

Photo by Dorothea von Haeften

Jessica Shattuck lives with her husband and three children in Brookline, MA.

Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Glamour, Open City, The Tampa Review, and The Sun among other publications. Her nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, Mother Jones, Wired, The Believer Magazine, and The Boston Globe.

Her novel, The Hazards of Good Breeding was 
a New York Times Notable Book, a Boston Globe best book of the year, and a finalist for the 2003 PEN/Winship Award. She was the winner of The Frank O’Connor Short Story Contest 
in 2001.

Visit JessicaShattuck.com for more information!

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Make sure to check it out on Goodreads and buy it on Amazon!

*I received this book through HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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