The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck
William Morrow, 2017. Hardcover, 368 pages.
Set just after World War II, The Women in the Castle explores life in post-war Germany. The novel follows a group of women, all widows of resistors involved in the July, 1944, plot to kill Hitler (featured in the 2008 film Valkyrie) as they regroup at the ancestral home of Marianne von Lingenfels’ late husband. As the war ended and in the days that followed, this group of women and their children come together because of a promise Marianne made to find and protect the wives of her husband and best friends’ colleagues.
After Marianne located Bentia Felderman and her son, Martin, whom are the widow and son of her best friend Constantine, known as “Connie,” they return to the castle that had seen better days. As the new “family” regroups, which also includes Marianne’s two daughters and son, readers will see the horror of how the war split everyone apart and what happens when the Russians arrived in Berlin as the war drew to a close. Soon, they are joined by Ania, another widow, and her two sons. In the months that follow, a Germany under occupation is seen through the eyes of those who are revered, not hated, by the occupying forces because they and their families took a stand. This is a different take from Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian that shows life for those never took a stand against or agreed with the Nazi regime (this just overlaps with the themes as The Women in the Castle opens) or The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook which covers the same timeframe from the point of view of the occupiers.
However, as the years go on, not all stays the same. The once cohesive unit starts to disintegrate. While Marianne only sees the good in everyone and wants to help those around her, Benita and Ania have secrets that start to break the “family” apart. As these secrets slowly come to light, the world becomes more complicated and each woman must face her own unique challenges. As part of that, each must face their past as choices made then have an even greater effect as time goes on. How will they react? How will it affect their relationships with each other and their children?
Shattuck has pick an often underexplored area of historical fiction for this novel. Then her angle within and the secrets that become known make it further unique. To help explore these points, Shattuck has utilized flashbacks to help explain the actions of the major characters and how their actions affect those around them. Ethical struggles abound. While I do think Shattuck did a great job with this, as a whole the story was not what I was expecting. The historical details provided a setting, but much of the struggle could have applied in another era. In fact, it struck me how much the situation in introduction and flashbacks of the 1930s also resembles today’s world. I could see book clubs enjoying discussing this novel.
Do you plan to read this novel? Do you have another novel set in post-World War II Europe to recommend? Would you like to take a guess at the outcome?
Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the opportunity to review a digital advanced reader copy of this novel. This novel will be released on March 28, 2017.