Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck: A Review

At a party at Burg Lingenfels, a castle frequented by the elite of German society, Marianne becomes aware of how horrible Hitler and the Nazi regime really are and a plot to halt the movement.  She makes a promise to her husband and best friend, Connie, that she will look after the wives and the children on the men who are planning the attack, if anything should happen to them.  Marianne is a very principled woman and, when the plot to assassinate Hitler goes awry and the men are executed, she works tirelessly to find all of the wives and children of the heroes of the resistance.  She invites Benita and Ania, wives of two of the resistance fighters, and their children to live with her in the castle.

This story was a very interesting and hopeful one but the characters were not the most complex.  Marianne is rigid and judgmental.  She believes that her kindness towards the women entitles her to meddle in their personal affairs.  I found that this book is not only about the war and the resistance but also offers lessons in forgiveness, both towards others and ourselves, and in allowing others to be who they want to be, regardless of what we feel is best for them.  The most complex and evolving character was Ania who is a bit of a mystery to the other women in the castle.  I am not suggesting that I didn't like the characters but I did feel that they were sometimes bland and stereotypical.

The story shows a much more dynamic account of the Holocaust and World War II than is usually presented.  Many of the German characters who were thought to be villains were really coerced or tricked into participating in awful acts and there were many dissenters who did not go along with the plot.  There were many more who quietly disagreed with the plans but neither participated nor dissented.  We have come to think about World War II and the Holocaust a lot like Marianne thinks about everything; all things are right or wrong and there is no in between.  If this book provides any lesson it is that better perspective in hindsight should not enable us to look down our noses at those that were not gifted with the foresight that we have.  The fact of the matter is, we don't know what we would have done in a situation like that.  One would hope that we would have behaved in a way that we could have been proud of today but we can't guarantee that we would not be a victim to the same propaganda and manipulation that many were at the time.  

The writing does not read as fast as I would have liked it to but the story really kept me moving along.  It was such an interesting and important story and I really enjoyed it, despite the horrific subject matter.  Readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in stories of World War II, would enjoy this book.

Watch a video of Jessica Shattuck discussing The Women in the Castle:

Reviews of books like this one:
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The Patriots by Sana Krasikov
The Refugees bu Viet Thanh Nguyen

This book is currently available and can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Read more reviews on this book on Goodreads.

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