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 her 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 forgive in the wake of unimaginable hardship.
©2017 Jessica Shattuck (P)2017 HarperCollins Publishers
Say something about yourself!
Shattuck has written a throughly enthralling and captivating novel of vivid Historic Fiction. Set in post WWII Bavaria the story swirls through time and captures Germany before the war. Using character flashbacks and memories, an intense picture of the war is captured. Not since reading the novel Stones From The River by Ursula Hegi have I read a book that succeeds so beautifully in deepening the readers understanding of how WWII Germany could have happened.
The characters are fully and richly developed and this to me makes it possible to understand the impossible. Shattuck was able to make me care about the most unlikely characters. The writing explores the duality of people, what makes us kind or cruel, and how most of life, in the author's opinion, is lived not in black and white, but in shades of grey. This is a difficult story that is horrifying and shockingly sad--but at the same time absolutely riveting.
I don't speak German so I can't comment on the accuracy of the accents and pronunciations of German words in the narration. However, I thought Campbell did an excellent job with the reading. She captured the emotion and feeling behind the words.
If you liked the book The Nightingale I think you will love this book. Be forewarned, this story is grounded in history and leaves you with more questions than clear and easy answers. Thought provoking, subtle and disturbing. I was transfixed.
Maine Colonial 🌲
The novel begins in a decrepit German castle immediately after the end of World War II. Marianne von Lingenfels, widow of one of the members of the failed July plot against Hitler, feels a moral obligation to find and help other widows and children of resistors who worked with her husband and were murdered by the Nazis.
First of all, Marianne wants to find Benita and Martin, the young wife and son of Constantine Fledermann, the dashing man she grew up with and always secretly loved. Then Marianne learns that Ania, the widow of a man she met only once, is in a displaced-persons camp nearby, with her two sons.
The three women come together to live in the castle, with their children. They are such different people, and their reactions to postwar realities differ as well. In later parts, the novel looks back at each woman’s story before and during the war. Each has secrets in her past that she doesn’t share with the others.
After several decades of reading WW2 fiction and non-fiction, I’ve become leery of novels involving the Nazi era. Too often the stories are sensationalistic and paint everyone as good or bad. They rely on our knowledge of what happened under the Nazis to color our views of their characters, without adequately taking into account that those characters didn’t know then what we know now. Jessica Shattuck manages to avoid those weaknesses.
A brief (I hope) digression: Not long ago, I went to a book club meeting to discuss The Zookeeper’s Wife, about a young woman in Warsaw who, together with her husband and children, hid Jews and others sought by the Nazis. Our talk led to a discussion of what we would have done if we lived in Germany or its conquered countries during the Nazi era. Only one member was certain she would have dared to resist the Nazis and help their victims, and I think she was kidding herself. Nobody can know that for certain, and history suggests that most people, even if sympathetic, will not risk much to help.
The reason why I bring up that book club story is because the real strength of this book, is Jessica Shattuck’s depiction of ordinary German citizens in this novel. The resistors are very much in the minority and not a significant part of the story. It’s everybody else we are shown, in all their self-absorbed and petty concerns.
Living through such a momentous time in history didn’t make them bigger people. If they were sharp-tongued, judgmental, or selfish before the war, or even if they just avoided inconvenient truths and focused only on their personal concerns, they stayed that way, through the war and afterward. This self-absorption allowed them to resent having their American occupiers shove their noses in the truth about the Nazi death camps, rather than to come to moral terms with their country’s wrongdoing. They didn’t feel responsible for what happened to the Jews and the Nazis’ other victims; they said they didn’t know, they couldn’t have done anything. Anyway, that was all in the past and why can’t people get on with their lives?
Shattuck doesn’t depict these people as bad people. She makes the reader see that they are ordinary, just like the people all around us today. They are not admirable, but they are all too real. And when you look at all the things happening in the world today, it becomes easier to see the small steps and self-justifications that can result in people effectively, if not intentionally, becoming complicit in terrible acts. Bravo to Jessica Shattuck for conveying that reality so subtly and effectively.
I would give the narrator of the audiobook, Cassandra Campbell, somewhere around a C+ or B- grade. She was just fine most of the time, but I felt like she didn’t adequately differentiate between various women’s voices and she occasionally mispronounced German words.
An excellent, provoking novel which manages to capture the complexities of the afterlives of the second world war.
Audiobooks have enriched my reading experience and made my life much more interesting.
There's something about learning history through the eyes of fictional characters that engages our senses and crystallizes the impact world affairs have had in humanity in ways no history class ever could.
Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in our obsession with WWII novels. The scale of that tragedy is so unfathomable that there's always hope that one more story could help us make sense of it all. In The Women In The Castle author Jessica Shattuck offers a nuanced perspective of Post-war Germany told through the lives of three unique female characters.
The story begins on November 9th, 1938 in Burg Lingenfels, a beautiful isolated Bavarian castle. Marianne von Lingenfels is hosting the annual harvest party thrown by her husband's Albrecht aunt, an elderly countess known for her rebellious spirit and anti-German views.
Albrecht Lingenfels and Connie Fledermann, Marianne’s childhood friend, are part of a group of German men involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. As they conspire, they make Marianne promise that if the plot fails, she must do everything she can to help the wives left behind, including Benita, Connie's soon to be young wife.
The Women in the Castle is at its core a complex moral story but is also a tale of resilience and survival. It narrates how three widows, from very different backgrounds, become the most unlikely of friends trying to navigate the tumultuous, confusing aftermath of WWII.
Thus, mostly forced by their extraordinary circumstances, an unlikely alliance is forged and the castle becomes a temporary refuge for these women and their children, as they painfully and slowly attempt to put their lives back together.
I think the author gets many things right, especially that sense that for many ordinary Germans, the rise of Hitler and Nazism had a slow-boiling kind of feeling and so, by the time many people realize what was happening it was already too late. This is not to absolve those that were directly or indirectly involved, but this novel certainly provides a more nuanced perspective on how the Germans allowed for the Holocaust to occur.
Cassandra Campbel is a seasoned, talented narrator and she proves it once again on this remarkable performance.
Recommended for anyone looking for an engaging, thought-provoking work of historical fiction.
The title, primise and initial couple of chapters were quite promising, but the story lagged a bit, surface. It seemed to lack depth in several aspects, then a somewhat, although pleasant, easy ending.
Such strong female characters, such breathy portrayals. Cassandra Campbell performs every single woman in this book by going way up high and adding lots of air -- even the main character, who as written is forceful, driven and uncompromising. Drove me crazy.
The narrator soooo slowly. Her german accent had a bit of a pidgin asian sound to it. I almost returned the book after the first 30 minutes or so. Listened to it at 1.5 - 2.0 which really helped. Just wasn't crazy about her reading.
An interesting story about a group of women with their children thrown together to support each other. Most of the story takes place right at the end of WWII.
Jessica Shattuck is a gifted writer. Cassandra Campbell is an amazing narrator. Winning combination. Thankful to have stumbled onto this book. Saw that readers of The Nightingale might appreciate it. I agree.
I really wanted to like this book, for decades I've been interested in WWII and at one point was so obsessed I read as much as I could get my hands on...but this book...trite beyond words, belying the promising reviews which convinced me to purchase it. I had hopes it would improve, and it did for a brief while, but then it slipped into a state so boring and irritating that I couldn't stand it any longer and shut it off with four hours to go. The performance was flat and unemotional, few variations of inflections distinguished characters. Storyline bounced back and fourth between decades in a confusing manner. New characters introduced wearing the same voice as previously established characters. What a waste.
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