Author: Jessica Shattuck
Published: March 28, 2017
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 4 stars
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.
It’s hard to criticize a book like this because of its subject matter and our need to condemn the past. I have rated it based on the fact that I enjoyed reading it, I liked the story and didn’t like the characters. I appreciate the way this book lays out life, not as black and white, but in many shades of gray.
I went into this story expecting to like the main character of Marianne because I agree with her on a moral level, and by the end, I did have some good feelings toward her. But for most of the book, I couldn’t stand her. She’s that annoying, overbearing, self-righteous, do-gooder who won’t leave you alone until you do exactly what she’s told you to do. I didn’t like Benita much either. She was far too self-centered for me. I expected to like either one or the other, because liking Marianne OR Benita seemed to be mutually exclusive. But nope, I actually disliked both of them. Ania, I liked. She seemed the most human and realistic of all of them. Yes, she did wrong, but then she stopped doing wrong to protect her children. And she admitted her wrong doing! That is what was so important to me about Ania. Although she had life excuses for why she did things, she admitted they were wrong and then tried to live her life the right way.
So, in the same way that you enjoy reading something you disagree with because you disagree with it and have fun pointing out why you’re right and the book is wrong, I enjoyed this book because I disagreed with and disliked some of the characters. I would recommend this book to readers who like historical fiction and those who enjoy moral dilemmas.