Author: Jessica Shattuck
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: March 28, 2017
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman
The Women in the Castle tells the story of the intertwined lives of three seemingly unconnected women during World War II Germany. Taking place in a Bavarian castle that used to host high society parties and socials, the novel shares the stories of three women, each strong in her own way. Marianne von Lingenfels is the heroine; she is the wife of Albrecht von Lingenfels, a prominent resistance leader. She promises her longtime childhood friend, Connie, also a resistor and colleague of Albrecht, that she would protect his young wife Benita and their unborn child. Sure enough, the resistance fails, and Marianne both men, along with a few of their conspirators, are hung for their treason. Marianne is spared because Albrecht has stayed in high esteem with prominent Nazi leaders. The other resistance leaders’ families are not so lucky; Connie’s son Martin ends up in an orphanage, and Benita ends up as a private mistress to a group of Russian soldiers. Marianne tirelessly searches for them and finds Martin, then Benita, and she takes them to the castle for protection. Life is hard and dismal; they have very little food or fuel to keep warm in the cold German winters. Along comes a fellow resistance leader’s wife, Ania, and her children. Marianne does not recognize Ania’s name in Albrecht’s documentation, but not wanting to be one to leave someone out in the cold, she gladly takes them in. Together, they establish a life for themselves while protecting some very dangerous secrets. Unfortunately for Marianne, her life is black and white, while the others have all lived in some shade of grey. Instead of growing together as a lifelong family, things fall apart when they don’t go the way Marianne thinks they should.
Throughout the book, readers are engaged in life of Germans, both Nazi and resistance, during World War II. They see the fear and horrors that people experienced, as well as the hunger and hopelessness. The narrative jumps from one year to another, from one person’s perspective to someone else’s. As the story unfolds, readers learn about each person and their motivations. Nobody, including Marianne, is as innocent or as helpless as others might think. Each has shown remarkable courage when needed, but at the same time, they are ashamed of other actions.
This is one of those books that has garnered a lot of buzz in the short time it has been on the market, and it’s easy to see why. Each character is complex, and while maybe not likeable, relatable. Every character has a major flaw that makes them more realistic to readers. And, each one has a likeable quality that may take some digging to find, but it’s there. By the end of the book, I had a good grasp on who each character was and her motivations. I knew who I would be friends with in real life. This was a well-written book with characters who definitely evolved throughout the story and gave me reason to keep turning the pages.
One thing that really appealed to me was the history infused in the book. I have read quite a few historical fiction books on World War II, particularly on Europe’s perspective, and while I don’t consider myself an expert on the topic, I had a good idea of what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to learn many new facts and nuances about the war. Just to be sure they weren’t literary license, I looked them up, and while names may have changed, certain circumstances and events really did happen. In my opinion, the real events being incorporated into the story made it even better.
The only thing that detracted from the story, in my opinion, were the German phrases thrown in from time to time. While they definitely add authenticity and interest to the story, if they weren’t explained, which many were not, it caused some frustration on the reader’s part. Still, it is a small distraction and certainly not enough to take away from the fantastic writing and storytelling.
Violence and profanity appear throughout the story, and some cruel acts of war are described in detail. Adults and mature teens will take a lot from the book. It is a work that any lover of WWII-era historical fiction needs to read.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.