Monday, January 22, 2018

Review: The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

There are so many WWII novels out there and so many being released all the time, that it seems as if there's no possible way that every aspect of the war hasn't already been covered and mined for stories. But then comes a novel like Jessica Shattuck's The Women in the Castle, where the focus is not only on the women and children left behind when the men fight the war but more specifically on the widows and children of a small portion of the conspirators who came so very close to assassinating Hitler that July of 1944 in Operation Valkyrie after the war is over.  With this novel, another aspect of the war and life after it comes a little bit more into focus.

Opening with the incongruity of a lavish party held at Burg Lingenfels, an impressive but crumbling castle in Bavaria, on the evening of what would come to be known as Kristallnacht, when Marianne von Lingenfels goes looking for her husband and her old friend, both missing from the party, she hears of the night's atrocities and the men's growing suspicion that assassinating Hitler is the only solution open to the resistance. And it is that night that, despite taking offence at the seemingly offhand and unimportant title of Commander of Wives and Children, laughingly bestowed on her by her husband, Marianne promises her best friend she will take care of his young fiance and their unborn child, come what may. After the war is over, Marianne works to honor her promise, finding six year old Martin in a children's re-education home and his mother Benita being used by the Russians in Berlin and takes the two of them to Burg Lingenfels where her own children are living. Eventually she finds another resister's widow, Ania, and her two children at a displaced persons camp and brings them to the castle as well. Life is not easy for anyone post-war and definitely not for the three women with their very different personalities and their secrets from each other. As the full truth of the Nazis' monstrousness comes out, Marianne, uncompromising and morally absolute, leans on the rightness of her husband and his friends' cause, even if they failed in the execution. Benita, pretty and young and sheltered from any knowledge of the work her husband was doing, just wants to move forward, to forget the past and make a new life with her precious son. Pragmatic Ania stays mostly quiet on the past, focused on day to day survival, unwilling to stir up the ghosts who always hover just over her shoulder.

The women are very different, having different backgrounds and personalities, their only obvious commonality that of their husbands' participation in the attempt on Hitler. The narrative time line jumps back and forth from each woman's past to her life as it unfolds after the war in the company of the other two and the narrative focus also moves back and forth amongst the women as they grapple with what a life moving forward will look like. The differences in the women stand in for the larger idea of how to remember, honor, and mourn but also go forth and embrace the future. Can we forgive? Should we? What would either of those look like? And who decides which of these options is the right one? All of the women are pretty set in their individual characterizations and the conflicts that result are realistic and nuanced. The relationships between the women are tested and forged in shared hardship and these alliances are heavyweights, uneasy, and breakable, so very different from many tales of women's relationship. The jumping narrative and the dominant characterizations of the women might make this a harder read for some but those looking for a differently focused book set mostly in the aftermath of the war will find this novel of moral obligation, remembrance, guilt, betrayal, and rebuilding something worth reading.

For more information about Jessica Shattuck and the book, check out her website or like her on Facebook. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Harper Collins and Trish from TLC Book Tours for inspiring me to pull this off my shelf sooner rather than later.

1 comment:

  1. I've read a LOT of WWII era books but I don't think I've ever read one on this specific topic. I'm looking forward to it!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!


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