I have read countless novels about World War II. I have read about the war from the Jewish perspective. I have read about the war from the French perspective and the British and the American perspectives. Books I have read have dealt with the war from the eyes of women, and soldiers, and children. But I, at least, have never read a novel that shows World War II from the eyes of regular Germans.
How could they have let this happen, we all wonder. I would never have stood for it, we all insist.
The Women in the Castle, a novel by Jessica Shattuck, presents World War II from the eyes of folks on the front line – the German citizens. It is the story of three women – widows of resistence fighters who attempted – and failed – to assassinate Hitler in 1944. One of the widows, Marianne von Lingenfels, returns to the castle that was the home of her husband’s family for generations with the other two widows and their children, fulfilling a promise she made to take care of these people should their plan fail. It, of course, failed, and the men were all put to death.
The women paid their price as well. One fell into the unfortunate hands of the Soviet army. Another had been placed in a camp with other German refugees, awaiting release by the Allies. Now they are trying to put their lives back together.
Each of the women has her own story, and it isn’t always what the reader expects. But Shattuck paints a very clear picture of Europe – particularly Germany – following World War I, and presents background that makes the reader understand that things are not just black and white, as we all had hoped. She does this without even coming close to being a Nazi apologist.
I couldn’t put this novel down. The writing is exceptional and the story was fascinating. The characters were well developed and interesting, if not always likeable. The book would be perfect for a reading group or book club.
I highly recommend this book.