Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Women in the Castle

Rate this book
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 their 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, to forgive in the wake of unimaginable hardship.

356 pages, Hardcover

First published March 28, 2017

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Jessica Shattuck

11 books893 followers
Jessica Shattuck is the New York Times Bestselling author of the novels The Women in the Castle, The Hazards of Good Breeding, a New York Times Notable Book and finalist for the PEN/Winship Award, and Perfect Life. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, Glamour, Mother Jones, Wired, and The Believer, among others. She received her MFA from Columbia University. Shattuck now lives with her husband and three children in Brookline, MA.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
14,157 (23%)
4 stars
27,964 (45%)
3 stars
15,964 (25%)
2 stars
2,768 (4%)
1 star
695 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,923 reviews
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
January 13, 2022
Suddenly she saw everything in its harsh, naked state. She felt the pulse of the lives lived inside the mean little house she passed: selfish or generous, kind or unkind, ugly or tolerable, almost all of them sad. And she saw the histories of the people passing by like x-rays stamped on their faces—ugly, mutinous tracings of dark and light: a woman who had ratted out a neighbor, a man who had shot children, a soldier who had held his dying friend in his arms. Yet here they were, carrying groceries, holding children’s hands, tuning their collars up against the wind. As if their moments of truth—the decisions by which they would be judged and would judge themselves—hadn’t already come and passed. What a sham this new German present was! An irrelevant time—a mad scramble to cast votes after the verdict had already been reached.
What did you know and when did you know it? And just as importantly, what did you do once you knew? We have seen umpteen films about World War II, read a gazillion books. But for most of us, certainly in the English-speaking world, what we have seen and read is almost always from the perspective of the victor. The Women in the Castle begins during the war, but is mostly about the post-war period, for Germans, particularly the three women of the title. It is a new, fascinating perspective that offers great insight into a subject that has received too little literary attention. It is moving, perceptive, engaging and thought-provoking.
Jessica Shattuck - from her site – Photo by Dorothea von Haeften
We are introduced to two of the three central women in 1938. Burg Lingenfels is an old castle, in poor repair. The Bohemian countess whose digs it is hosts salons for a select set. This group is none too happy with the turn being taken in the nation. A handful decide to form a resistance. One of the plotters is Connie Flederman, a charming gentleman, officer in the Abwehr, and bff of Marianne von Lingelfels, niece-in-law of the countess, and actual hostess of the party. She and Connie had been best buds since childhood, and she had expected that they would be together forever, so it had come as a huge shock when he married some sweet young fraulein, Benita Gruber. Marianne married her college professor, Albrecht, one of the plotters. Marianne's promise to the men that the women will support them drives her to help those women later. The activities of the resisters are not covered in detail, but function to bring the women together.

Marianne is central, the organizer. Named by the conspirators commander of wives and children, to see to the care of the widows and children of the resistors should the worst happen, and charged in particular by Connie to take care of Benita and their son, Martin, Marianne takes her pledge very, very seriously. The women are gathered at the castle of the book's title. She uses her connections to track down Benita and Martin after the war. An American occupation officer finds the third woman, Ania Grabanek, from a list of women Marianne had given him. Ania had not known Marianne prior to the American finding her, but she and her children are brought in nonetheless.

From the 1948 Roberto Rossellini film Germany Year Zero - from Indiewire.com

Through the interweaving of the women’s stories we get a look at post-War Germany. We even get a taste of post-WW I Germany in the recollections of one of the women. As widows of men who had opposed Hitler, they are in a better position with the occupation forces than many, but there is plenty of hardship to go around. And, as opponents of Hitler, some paid a price before the war ended.

Aspects of war-time are related in retrospect, including things like having to be particularly tight-lipped around anyone not known to be part of the resistance. We see a perspective from people who were influenced by Nazi fantasies of a bright future, but on seeing enough of what was really going on, bailed. In one chilling scene a woman picks up goods from a reassignment store, slowly realizing whose goods had been reassigned. Orphaned children were given new last names if their own names were deemed insufficiently Germanic. A prolonged period of deprivation impacts children’s development.

There were plenty of challenges in the immediate post-war period. Women were imprisoned by some occupation forces as sexual slaves. People newly released from German camps were wandering the areas nearby desperate for food, and willing to do whatever was necessary to get some. The locals were required to watch documentary films showing the horrors of the concentration camps. The sorts who then refused to believe what was shown echoes alarmingly today as truth continues to make little impact on closed minds. As with most wars, the supply of men is much reduced, making it a challenge for many women to find suitable mates. And even among the survivors the scars of war can make emotional intimacy problematic. There is also considerable guilt to deal with. And how is one to cope with a de-Nazification program that leaves so many known Nazis in positions of power? And later, coping with the challenges of a new world, resenting those who have never suffered.
Unlike her half-brothers, Mary had grown up without typhoid and diphtheria and rape. She had not been pressed into overcrowded trains and transport vehicles and fetid, swarming, waterless DP camps full of war-hardened souls. She had always had school, and clothing, and medicine, and a roof over her head. And most of all she had never had to lie.
There is considerable guilt to deal with. And sometimes it might be better not to know.
All a question gets is an answer, and in her experience you don’t always want those. As a gardener, she knows that if you turn over a rock, you will find some worms and potato bugs. Sometimes even a snake. And as a German, she knows that if you start poking through a shoebox of photographs, you’ll find Nazi uniforms and swastikas and children with their arms raised in Heil Hitler salutes.
There are also uplifting moments of beauty and hope. A struggling mother finding warmth and joy in camaraderie with others in the same boat. A Christmas celebration in a town summons the realization that music is essential to the human soul. Families reunite.

Allied posters in 1945 Germany (These atrocities: Your fault!”) promoted collective guilt

There is much story-telling talent here, with a minimum of flashiness. Cows are parted from their calves. A damaged crow stands in for a harsh disappointment. There is some chronological back and forth as each of the women recall their past. There is the occasional flash forward that lets us know where this one or that one winds up. The action begins in 1938 with the plot, stays mostly with the immediate post-war period, then jumps ahead to 1991 to finish. I was not smitten with the jump to the near-contemporary. And was not persuaded that the care given to a particular grave over a long period of time would have taken place. It is a delicate balancing act, engaging us in the stories of the three women while also showing what Germany was like in the years after the war. Although the women definitely gain our interest and sympathy, I felt distant from them at times. Maybe that is what the author intends. They are flawed, and very human. They are damaged, and some have inflicted damage as well.

The Women in the Castle is a remarkable portrait of a beaten nation coping with its defeat. It offers insight into what the survivors of the war in Germany faced, how they coped, and sometimes failed. While there are moments of horror here, the book is more one of very human beings attempting to move on with life, even to build new lives, with and despite one another, during a very trying time. Physical survival is paramount, of course, but they also struggle with trying to gain or sustain emotional and moral lives, battles with huge stakes. How the relationships of the three women form, grow, and change is both heart-warming and heart-breaking. They function as much more than stand-ins for German guilt.

You will not only find an emotional journey here, but will see a piece of history from a different and illuminating perspective. You will not need a Marshall Plan to help you through this. The Women in the Castle is a very satisfying, unusual, and worthwhile read all on its own.

Review first posted – October 28, 2016

Publication dates
----------April 4, 2017 - hardcover
----------January 2, 2018 - trade paperback

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal and FB pages

March 24, 2017 - NY Times - Shattuck writes of a painful part of her history - I Loved My Grandmother. But She Was a Nazi.

Other books by Jessica Shattuck
-----A Perfect Life - 2010
-----The Hazards of Good Breeding - 2004

A nifty list of indie Post-War films
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews608 followers
November 18, 2019
The storytelling grabs you IMMEDIATELY!!! I LOVE IT!!!!!
This tour de force of historical imagination is set primarily in Germany before during and after WWII focusing on the lives of three women and their children.

You'll meet Marianne, "The Commander of the wives and Children.
Marianne was married to Albreht Von Lingenfels, from a long line of revered German Generals, who wanted to help bring Hitler to the court of law with the support of the outside world.

Connie Fledermann, from an old once-rich junker family, was another character you'll meet early in this story. My image of this great man never 'ever' left me! Still hasn't. I credit, author Jessica Shattuck for this powerful-memory-achievement. With 'very' few words she kept a character alive for me.... who dies early through the rest of her storytelling.

Connie and Albreht had spent a few years working together assisting victims of the national Socialists-Jews who wanted to emigrate, imprisoned Communists, artists whose work were banned.
Both men, Albreht and Connie, friends with a purpose,....understood how the world saw their country...and were shameful to be associated with Germany this way.
But it was Connie who had given up on the law-- he was a believer in direct action. He felt it was his duty to actively work to defeat Hitler.
Marriane was married to Albreht: They had 3 children: Fritz, Elizabeth, and Katharine.

Connie was Marianne's oldest friend. Connie held Marianne in the highest regard ...his sternest advisor...the person who keeps him most honest.
Sometimes - I was sad that he and Marianne never married ( silly thought I guess).... but I really admired and felt the depths of their male/female friendship. Powerful- special - beautiful --- and cut short.
Connie and Albreht both were hung in the war.

The Prologue in "The Women in The Castle", is sooooooo good!!! I read it 3 times. The 3rd time I read it was after I finished the entire story.
I've been so tempted to include in excerpt I like so much from the prologue-- ( I've debated and debated)..... but have chosen not too.....but I felt it was very special and literally sprinkled love, honor, dignity, and purpose throughout the rest of the novel.

Marianne was raised to value education more than domesticity. Not particularly a knockout beauty - but she was part of the men's conversations. "Marianne was the last man standing". Men trusted and respected who she was! Had Marianne been a man, she would have been killed too.
Benita was younger - physically beautiful....with no interest in politics. Connie once told Marriane that Benita "is a simple girl and she won't deserve whatever mess I might drag her into". Connie asked Marianne to promise to look after Benita and their - not yet born child - if anything should happen to him.
Martin Constantine Flederman was Connie and Benita's child. His name was changed to Martin Schmidt...as all the children of the war were: "good, ordinary, German names". Marianne could never have predicted years ago just how much she would be involved with watching over Benita and her son Martin.

Ania Grabarek and her two sons Anselm and Wolfgang also are a part of this story.
Anita's husband was in the Polish Foreign Office before the war, and then in the military, and then in the Home Army.... then sent to an extermination camp.

Burg Lingenfels was once a beautiful grand Castle. Before the war Marianne's husband, Albreht's, great aunt, Frau von Lingenfels, The Countress, owned it. She didn't live in it – – but she organize parties and picnics. She was something of an eccentric.
After the war....the Castle was run down - empty of fine furniture- damp - cold. They did have a roof over their head and they live mostly in the kitchen

You get to know the children - and given that the children had a father who was a traitor- a man that wanted to kill Fuhrer.... it was important to educate the children about the reasons their father's were killed. Could they do this without being prejudice?
Martin's father, Connie, lived in the shadow as a hero, from the teachings of Marianne- yet his own mother never mentioned him. Benita spent time in prison because of what her husband did. Marianne never had to. So - we see early that the moral issues of being a traitor in ones own country - has many different points of view and emotions tied to those opinions and emotions.

As the story goes on- we learn more of what happen to each of these women -
Marianne - Benita - and Anita each had different background experiences.
Everyone has been damaged by the horrors of this war.
Jessica Shattuck invites us to take a deeper look at personal responsibility.....blame - shame - dishonor - and moral conscience. We look at the other side too - honor - loyalty - and love.
The one thing Marianne, Benita, and Anita, had in common is that each of their husbands were killed in this war. They had children to raise. Their future choices in part two begin to move them in different directions- yet as they were rebuilding their individual lives - the time spent in the early days after the war together in the run down Castle bonded them... whether they liked each other or not.
Everyone was growing and changing. The children too - becoming young adults - then adults! I was on the verge of tears several times.
This is one of the best historical books I've read where we see how much German's suffered - not just Jews. German's were aching watching others suffer...
Many went hungry -- lived without water and electricity... but still were grappling with the moral questions of right and wrong!

With so much vivid sensory detail and intimacy, I always looked forward to getting back to my reading - between life breaks.
Profile Image for Melissa.
647 reviews28.7k followers
August 7, 2017
*3.75-ish stars (rounded up)*

The Women in the Castle is a riveting novel that hits home with the notion that sometimes it’s our shared experiences—no matter how horrific—rather than our strongly-held beliefs or common views of the world, that can bind us together and leave a lasting impression.

Jessica Shattuck takes a different approach with her WWII story, opting to relay the devastation through the eyes of three distinct German women. Women that stumble and make mistakes along the way, like we all do, but ultimately strive to find some semblance of a life among the scattered ruins of their bleak existence and the memories of the awful things they witnessed throughout the war; not to mention, the things they were forced to sacrifice. Flat and borderline lifeless, it was more the pity and heartbreak I felt on behalf of these characters than any sort of likability, that kept me interested in their story.

Almost a character in and of itself, Burg Ligenfels, a remote and decrepit Bavarian castle, opens and closes the doors on these women and their journey to peace. It all starts with a party in 1938, held at the castle, where Marianne’s husband, Albrecht, and her best-friend, Connie, decide it’s time to take a stand against Hitler, consequences be damned. It’s at the same party Marianne vows, unbeknownst to them, to take care of the wives and children of the resistance.

Fast forward, years after the war and now a widow herself, Marianne is taking her role as pseudo-resistance mother seriously. Despite her determination, she only manages to track down Connie’s widow, Benita, and the widow of another resister, Ania. The three women, along with their children, settle into Burg Ligenfels and become somewhat of a makeshift family. Things aren’t easy though; their relationships are weighed down by guilt, lies and Marianne’s unwavering beliefs.

As compelling as I found this story to be, it wasn’t without its faults. The author skips huge chunks of time and tries to make up for it by going back and filling in some of the blanks along the way, but the delivery is muddled and often confusing. There were quite a few times I had to straighten out the timeline in my own head and figure out whose voice which particular chapter pertained to before I could move on. Around PART III, I felt the story lost a great deal of momentum and teetered on the edge of boring. The author gave up the few secrets she held quite easily and too early on, making the ending less impactful, in my opinion. Acceptable and peaceful in some ways, but lacking the strong emotional edge I expected from a story of this calibre.

While I enjoyed this book, it didn't come close to dethroning The Nightingale, the most remarkable WWII story I have ever read, from the mighty pedestal I've placed it on. The women in this story aren't as emotionally adept or as memorable as I found the characters from Sarah's Key to be either. For the different take this story provides on WWII, I would say it's worth the read and would even go so far to say it's on par with All the Light We Cannot See. It's one I'm glad I took the time to read, but not one I would consider a new favorite in this genre.

Favorite Quote:
“She was her own kind of dreamer, a blind mathematician skating along the thin surface of life, believing in the saving power of logic, reason, and information, overlooking the whole murky expanse of feeling and animal instinct that was the real driver of human behavior, the real author of history.”

*Thank you to Bonnier Zaffre and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
575 reviews762 followers
February 2, 2020
At the end of World War II Marianne von Lingenfels tracks down her childhood friend, Connie Flederman's son Martin and his wife Benita. Marianne had made Connie a promise to take care of his family if anything happened to him. Her husband Albrecht and Connie, as well as various others, had been a part of a plot to try and assassinate Hitler that fell through leading to their execution. Marianne feels responsible after promising her support to Albercht as his wife to take care of the other widows. She draws up a list of names to see if anyone else shows up from it, which eventually leads to Ania and her two sons coming to join her as well. The three women stay at the castle which belonged to Albercht's family. The deal with the relocation effort as troops move through Germany and the eventual reconstruction of the country.

I know a lot of other people enjoyed the book a lot but I just found kind of boring. The writing was really good but I couldn't get into the plot. Marianne really annoyed me, she really could have been much more understanding. Especially the whole situation with Benita. The part that got to me most was it felt so unnecessary and I can't help but blame Marianne. Also the way she acted in the situation with Ania, I didn't even see what the big deal was with everything that happened. The pacing also didn't do it for me, it just jumped in time too much, especially to the ending where it was in the current day. Just didn't work for me.
Profile Image for Shelby *trains flying monkeys*.
1,606 reviews5,990 followers
February 7, 2017
For all the horror of the official reports she and Albrecht had seen, with their language of "extermination" and "elimination," they could not come close to conjuring this. How could they? There was no point of reference. Later, such footage would come to be so familiar it became unseen-a kind of placeholder for human evil. The first black-and-white glimpse of barbed wire, dirt, and nakedness cautioned viewers, look away. But in this moment, in the first unveiling, it was nothing she or anyone else had ever seen. And it was impossible to look away. She looked and trembled in her seat.

I've always heard it discussed on just how could the German people all condone what was going on in their country under Hitler's reign. This book takes you there. And sadly I'm probably not going to be able to convey how powerful the book is.

It starts in a Bavarian castle at a party.
 photo DAV7740w1_zpsbao69m1a.jpg

Marianne and her husband Albrecht are hosting, news comes to them of destruction taking place that will later be known as Kristallnacht. Marianne is not a woman that lets things go on around her without knowing what is going on, so she enters a room where her husband, her best friend Connie and others are talking about how scared they are of what is becoming of their country. They don't agree with Hitler's politics. Connie (who Marianne is secretly in love with) introduces later his new fiance. A poor girl named Benita. He makes Marianne promise to him to always look after his wife and son should something happen to him.

Things do happen. Connie and Albrecht join in on a plot to assassinate Hitler and it fails. They are put to death and Benita is thrown into prison, even though she was totally clueless.

Marianne fights to find their child and get Benita back so that she can fulfill her promise.

They make their way across a war torn Germany back to the castle, which is now crumbling. Along the way they pick up Ania and her two sons.
There is a whole lot of secrets bound by these women in that castle. They know that the world around them is deeply changed forever but so have they.

This book isn't a pretty picture of anything. It tells how each of these women faced what they were challenged with wide open eyes.
She felt the pulse of the lives lived inside the mean little houses she passed: selfish or generous, kind or unkind, ugly or tolerable, almost all of them sad. And she saw the histories of the people passing by like x-rays stamped on their faces-ugly, mutinous tracings of dark and light: a woman who ratted out a neighbor, a man who had shot children, a soldier who had held his dying friend in his arms. Yet here they were, carrying groceries, holding children's hands, turning their collars up against the wind. As if their moments of truth-the decisions by which they would be judged and would judge themselves-hadn't already come and passed What a sham this new German present was! An irrelevant time-a mad scramble to cast votes after the verdict had already been reached.

Some of this sounds so familiar to me. They say history repeats itself. I hope this time in history stays never repeated forever. Not forgotten though, educate yourself. Step back from your hate (even though you don't see it as hate) and educate yourselves. You would hope that with all the ways to learn that are available today that people would.
On the news and my stupid Facebook feed though you would wonder. I see hate from BOTH sides. No one will admit that they have the wrong viewpoint. They become keyboard commandos for their cause and never see that they might just be preaching some of that hate that they so strongly oppose. What they are saying is right and nothing else will do.

 photo social-media-propaganda-twitter-facebook_zpsagzfaw06.jpg

Booksource: I received a copy of this book from the publisher and then promptly lost it. I'm glad I found it again.
Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,131 followers
April 27, 2017
Captivated initially by the premise and cover but disappointed in the historical detail delivered. This book just wasn't what I was hoping for

Set at the end of World War II, in a crumbling Bavarian castle that once played host to all of German high society. This is the story of Three women haunted by the past and the secrets they hold

I was really looking forward to a strong historical fiction novel with good character development and interesting historical detail but this one fell flat for me from the outset as I just could not connect with the characters or the story and felt the book lacked any real depth compared with other historical fiction books I have about this time period in history.
I listened to this one on audio and really couldn't recommend the narration either, as I felt the performance was irritating and accents overplayed.

So many of my Goodread friends have loved this one and this is just my reaction to the book.
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,308 reviews2,191 followers
February 7, 2017
I started reading this a couple of days after Holocaust Remembrance Day and on that day I thought about how it should be remembered more than on just one day each year . This is why I really believe that reading books about WWII and the Holocaust is so important. This book certainly made me remember the horrors of what happened during WWII , but this was from a perspective that we are not used to reading from. The war and what happened to so many looms in the background but is always there. The focus in this novel is on the German resistors who believed that what Hitler and the Nazis were doing was horrific and immoral. Their belief was so strong that they thought the only way to stop him was to assassinate him. Their failed attempt resulted in their executions. But this is the story not of the bold, brave German resistors but of the wives and children left behind. The three women here are each bold and brave in their own ways, but yet each has their own flaws as well . Their lives become intertwined after the war.

Marianne von Lingenfels is told by her best friend , Connie "You are appointed the commander of wives and children." She definitely becomes their commander as she finds Connie's wife Benita and their son, Martin, Ania and her children, survivors of another resistor. An old castle belonging to Marianne's husband's family becomes their place of refuge. With chapters that move around in time , the lives of these women unfold and it becomes clear to the reader, but not necessarily to Marianne that these two women have secrets and pasts that are very different than the privileged life she led before the war. Their stories are chilling at times and Marianne's efforts to save and protect them, although in good faith, seem a bit heavy handed. What this novel has brilliantly done is depict the lives of these women before the war in the flashback chapters and of course afterwards, giving a view on the Germans , that I have not often read about. Their relationships are complex and the story is heartbreaking at times. It spans a period of time over 50 years and even to the end it is apparent what the war has done these people. It's a well written and captivating story.

I received an advanced copy of this book from HarperCollins through Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Norma.
551 reviews12.7k followers
January 22, 2020
I found this to be a dramatic and an uniquely told story that gave me a new understanding and a different perspective on this time period of World War II that I have never experienced before while reading a Historical Fiction novel.

THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE by JESSICA SHATTUCK is an intriguing, powerful, difficult, and thought-provoking read about the struggles and relationships of three widowed women.  Their lives and fates become intertwined by a vow that our main character, Marianne made to her husband and best friend to find and protect these women and their children if a plan that they were involved in as resistors failed.

JESSICA SHATTUCK delivers an extremely vivid and well-written read here from the perspectives of three interesting and memorable women.  We follow along their stories from their past and present lives together leaving me feeling frustrated and heartbroken at times. I liked each of our main characters equally, Marianne, Ania and Benita although, it did take me a little while to warm up to them but once I did, I became fully involved in this story as I learned more about them and the history surrounding this time period.

I must admit though a few times throughout this story I did struggle with some of the historical aspect of this novel as I found the timelines and places a little confusing at times. But, when I got to Part 2 of this novel it was much easier to follow along with the storyline and all the characters involved.  I do wish that I was given a little more insight and background into some of the information that was given to us in Part 1 of this novel though as I believe I might have been able to enjoy this book a little bit better.  

To sum it all up, this was an enjoyable and a very interesting historical fiction novel with a fantastic cover that had me totally engrossed in each of these characters lives. As I was learning about these women’s challenging personal experiences and contemplating some unimaginable decisions that they made to the heartwarming and satisfying ending. Would recommend!

All of Brenda’s and my reviews can be found on our sister blog:
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,782 reviews14.2k followers
April 20, 2017
Three women, Marianne, Benita and Ania, from different walks of life, but all have one thing in common. They have survived the holocaust, the plot to kill Hitler which took two of their husbands and for Ania, the evil in which she found herself involved. It is the immediate aftermath in Bavaria, of this terrible and horrific time, a promise made by Marianne will bring these women and their children together where they now must depend on each other for all their survival.

Although this is a novel in which the holocaust and Hitler play a prominent role, it is above all a novel of friendships forged during a time of great peril and stress. It features two strong women, and one just trying to come to terms with what has happened to her, and a way to future happiness. Life of course never turns out exactly as planned, and eventually secrets exposed, and the ending of something important will divide these women, one will pay a terrible price. It does show, as has happened many times, exactly what woman left alone while men plotted or went off to fight, were exposed to, faced, the danger, food shortages and the many things they had to do to survive. These are German women so it was very interesting to read their stories, haven't read many books showing how they lived, what they believed, how they felt about what was happening in their country.

A solidly written and well told story, of course not very uplifting though this author does leave us with hope. The next generation and their quest to understand the difficult decisions that were made, to not judge but to forgive what these women went through. To show love even though they may not have agreed with some of their choices.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,798 reviews2,391 followers
March 28, 2017

The Women in the Castle begins with the Prologue at Burg Lingenfels, site of a Bavarian Castle. The year is 1938, setting a picture of the pre-war days, the Countess’s famous harvest party is being assembled, organized, and hosting this party is Marianne von Lingelfels, niece-in-law of the Countess, accompanied by her husband, Albrecht, her once-upon-a-time professor.

Hosting the party was like setting up a civilization on the moon. But this was part of what kept people coming back despite yearly disasters – minor fires and collapsed outhouses, fancy touring cars stuck in the mud, mice in the overnight-guest beds. The party had become famous for its anarchic, un-German atmosphere. It was known as an outpost of liberal, bohemian culture in the heart of the proper aristocracy.

Among the guests are Connie Flederman, and his betrothed, Benita Gruber. Connie has been Marianne’s lifelong friend, dear to her heart, and she is just beginning to take in the reality of Benita when Connie extracts a promise from her to take care of Benita should plans go awry. She gives her word.

In 1945, Marianne returns to Burg Lingenfels with Benita, after Marianne has finally found, and rescued her. The castle is worse for the seven years that have passed since the night of the harvest party. Her son Martin has been with Marianne ever since Marianne was able to locate him and bring him home. Since that night of the party when Connie declared her commander of wives and children she has taken this role very seriously, but her first duty was her promise to Connie to watch over Benita and Martin. Still, she drew up a list of names, names taken from Albrect’s journal, checking everywhere she could to see if anyone on the list appeared, giving names to Herr Peterman so she could be notified when they found anyone. And so this is how Ania and her two sons come to join their mismatched family. The wife of one of the men who attended the party, Pietre Grabarek. The one who brought the news of Kristallnacht that evening.

Their new lives are very different from their old ones; much has changed aside from the destruction of the war. They’ve changed. Endured much, knowing those who endured worse. Lost loved ones, lost homes, rebuilding lives. Surrounded by a new morality, the blaming, the guilt. Hanging onto, or trying to hang onto what little is left of hope and belief in goodness and kindness. It is heartbreaking, but there is love and maybe even a flicker of faith. Three women bonded by the place and time, by their husbands’ friendships, and eventually through their friendships with each other. Friendships that are tested time and again, and yet remain. No one else could understand what they’re endured, who they’ve become, no one else knows their stories.

Jessica Shattuck’s story is a gem, a unique perspective on a story which most of us feel we know fairly well. There are so many variations on the theme of the Holocaust, but this explores it from a perspective I’ve not encountered before. All through this narrative Shattuck manages to move effortlessly back and forth through time, filling in details from an earlier time as they become relevant to the unfolding of this heartbreaking and heartwarming story.

Highly recommended

Pub Date: 28 Mar 2017

Many thanks for the ARC provided by William Morrow
Profile Image for Fran.
661 reviews633 followers
June 1, 2017
Burg Lingenfels Castle is the setting for a yearly gathering of German aristocrats. The countess of the castle has always encouraged intellectual sparring on liberal, bohemian or risque topics. Niece-in-law Marianne von Lingenfels hosts the festivities. Marianne's husband Albrecht, a university professor, and family friend Connie Fledermann, along with several other male guests are engaged in serious discussions in the study. Focusing on the world at large, Albrecht and Connie determine that they cannot sit back and allow Hitler to continue his policies. An assassination plot will be planned. Marianne, upon hearing the discussion, promises the full support of the wives. Connie asks her to be "commander of wives and children" if the plan goes awry. She readily agrees.

1944. The attempt on Hitler's life has failed. Albrecht, Connie and other conspirators are executed. Albrecht von Lingenfels was a descendant from a long line of revered generals. Perhaps this protected wife Marianne from scrutiny. Marianne began her search for war widows and children of conspirators. She located Connie's son Martin in a Children's Home where instructors taught the doctrine of racial purity. Benita, Connie's wife and Martin's mother, had been repeatedly raped but was now mistress of a Red Army Captain, hoping he would make inquiries about Martin. Marianne was able to reunite mother and son and bring them to the Bavarian castle.

A second widow, Ania Gruber with children in tow, was rescued from a displaced persons camp. Now three widows with their children lived in the castle. Widow co-dependence was based upon need. Each one had secrets and a cross to bear.

Marianne was a product of a strict Prussian upbringing. She was organized and efficient. Benita Fledermann was a country bumpkin and the love of Connie's life. Having a delicate nature, she was traumatized by her captivity and separation from Martin. Her health was compromised and she needed to regain her strength. Ania was a mystery. Having fled the Red Army, Ania and sons embarked upon a journey, hiding in the forest or walking toward the next piece of bread or place to rest. Ania and her children never smiled, seldom spoke. Three widows with children trying to deal with the stark realities of the present, haunted by secrets of the past.

"The Women in the Castle" by Jessica Shattuck showcases three women who find difficulty coming to terms with their individual guilt and shame during World War II. The secrets they keep prevent healing from personal trauma and overall crimes against humanity.

Thank you Bonnier Zaffre Publishing and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review "The Women in the Castle.
Profile Image for Debra .
2,424 reviews35.2k followers
September 25, 2017
I am most likely going to be in the minority when I say that this book did not blow me away. I struggled with this book. I will even go so far to say that I thought it was a snooze-fest at times. That's right! I found some parts to be downright boring and felt the story dragged on and on. The book started out fine for me and then I lost my interest, then my interest picked back up and then I felt bored again. I have been reading a lot of books that have gripped me lately and not let go, this one felt like a slow burn.

There was a lot of hype for this book and I have said it before...I wonder if when I read the hype, my expectations get too high. By the description of the book, and the reviews of friends, I thought this book would knock my socks off. Well, my socks stayed on and I was not blown away.

This is a book about survival of women during the last parts of WWII. Their journey to the castle, their hardships, sacrifices, loss, grief, determination, hope, and resiliency. Marianne, Benita and Ania lost their husbands during the failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Marianne had made a promise that she would help look out for their wives in the event that they did not make it. She holds up her part of the bargain. But I still found her to be somewhat of a unsympathetic character. Marianne finds the two women and Martin, Benita's son, one and by and brings them to the dilapidated castle owned by her husband's relatives.

This one did not live up to the hype for me.

See more of my reviews at www.openbookpost.com
Profile Image for Sam.
142 reviews338 followers
February 7, 2017
World War II novels are seemingly never out of style, and the public appetite for them is insatiable. Besides the pantheon of classic and important reads from nonfiction to darkly comic war novels to demo-crossing YA reads, for the past three years a WWII book with a special alchemy has penetrated public consciousness and been THE BOOK you must read: in 2014, All the Light We Cannot See; 2015, The Nightingale; 2016 (on a smaller scale), Lilac Girls. This is a book that has great storytelling, engages with WWII in a new and fresh way, and ultimately provides a real emotional connection with the majority of readers, knowing how things turn out in a grand sense but intimately involved with the fates of these particular characters.

What will be THE World War II book for 2017? My money's on The Women in the Castle.

The Women in the Castle takes a very familiar subject and turns the focus on a group not typically solicited for lead roles in WWII fiction: German women, struggling on the homefront during the war and then more importantly tasked with putting themselves, their families, and a nation back together after the war, rebuilding while also understanding and acknowledging their grief and guilt. Shattuck achieves that mystical alchemy needed for a WWII novel to be book club bound and verbally passed along amongst friends and coworkers: solid storytelling, characters you're invested in, larger ideas and moral questions and engaging with history in a fresh way.

Shattuck's prose is clear and accessible, nothing overly flowery or fancy, but descriptive enough to draw you into the proceedings. I had been hopping between reads, nothing fully drawing me in, until I started The Women in the Castle and was immediately hooked and then hurtled through at great speed. She is able to balance establishing characterization and storytelling elements with moving the plot forwards and backwards in time and via different perspectives. That can be a difficult thing to do, and indeed can cripple a reading experienice if poorly executed. But Shattuck's narrative descisions are easy to follow along, and become almost necessary and hungered for by the reader: she'll pull on a thread in one chapter, drop a bombshell secret in the next, making us desparate to find out how and when this all happened and she's anticipated our need to understand with an appropriate change in time and perspective. From that angle, her writing is extremely confident and successful. But her descriptions are also very well done, and her scenes can haunt you as her characters encounter subtle or blatant evil and horror of the Holocaust or the war in general.

I won't go into the plot too much - the blurb is lengthy and comprehensive - but I will say that Shattuck's three lead characters are all extremely memorable women, for very different reasons. The story of their fledgling friendship out of tragedy (all are widows after the failure of Operation Valkyrie, the mission to assassinate Hitler) and the tests and strains those bonds face and undergo as they carve out collective and individual lives in the war's aftermath is as compelling as the larger tale of the defeated German nation dealing with grief and guilt post war, as wel their silence and complicity and hunger and deprevation and sexual assault and violence. Marianne, Benita, and Ania all have flaws, all fragile and doing their best to move forward from the pain incurred and endured, and not always able to completely escape it, but certainly always trying, with help of their comraderie and their love for their children. And each woman faces her past and her guilt quite differently, and judges her friend differently as well, leading to some heartbreaking conclusions and outcomes.

Finally, by placing the perspectives with German women, Shattuck is somewhat inverting standard paradigms of the evil Germans who were all Nazis, and inviting us to understand through the different characters what life was like for ordinary and extraordinary Germans during this period, how some could choose to act against Hitler boldly while most either openly supported his ideas without understanding until too late what his coded language meant and the real world implications of that rhetoric and ideology being absorbed so easily and readily. And what the postwar period meant for the German people, fear of confronting their dark guilt and shame, but needing to in order to gain peace or redemption or forgiveness or something, the blame and responsibility shifting according to each character and their own history and action and inaction.

While it may not quite attain the literary highs or mass adoption that All the Light We Cannot See did, The Women in the Castle is a great addition to recent WWII fiction, and from its very different vantage point feels fresh from what has come before. Well paced, plotted, and told, I think The Women in the Castle has the right ingredients to find a highly interested audience hungry for new tales from this period. Highly recommended for historical fiction fans of WWII era, and 4 stars for me.

-received an ARC on edelweiss, thanks to William Morrow
Profile Image for Iris P.
171 reviews205 followers
June 15, 2017
The Women in the Castle: A Novel

★★★★ 4 Impressive Stars!

"The historian will tell you what happened, the novelist will tell you what it felt like.”

E.L. Doctorow

"I received a free advance e-copy of this book from HarperCollins via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review, thank you!

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 a history class never could.

Reading fiction helps cement knowledge we might already have, but once we are committed to a story, history is not longer a collection of cold, abstract facts but actual events that impacted the lives of real people. A good writer then can transform the way we absorb history from an emotionally disconnected engagement into a visceral, eye-opening and transformative experience.

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.

Under Hitler, the economy is once again booming, there are plenty of jobs and although the Nazis are actively inciting the flames that would eventually lead to a new war, most Germans are happy to be enjoying this new level of prosperity.

As in turns out, that same night, violence against Jews breaks out all across the Reich. In what later would be known as "Kristallnacht" or the "Night of the Broken Glass" , hundreds of synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and business establishments owned by Jews are looted and burned to the ground. Hundreds are killed and thousands are taken to concentration camps.

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 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.

Marianne is clearly the cornerstone and moral compass of their triangle, but each one of these characters is a strong, interesting protagonist in their own way.

Benita, who comes from a very humble background, is ambitious, beautiful and willfully ignorant of what has taken place around her. She adores her young son and suffers a great deal after being displaced and separated from him until Marianne rescue both of them.

Ania Grabarek, a war widow with two young sons is a hardworking, pragmatic, rough around the edges type of woman. I found her character to be the most fascinating because in her we see an ordinary German citizen who, even after learning of all the atrocities committed by the Nazis is unable to accept responsibility for her own choices.

The novel continues five years after the end of the war and at this point, the narrative becomes more of a character study than historically centered. Through flashbacks what happened to these characters is revealed and in the process, we learned they are keeping important secrets from one another, something that in time will test the strength of their relationships.

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 realized what was happening it was already too late. Which is not to say that Shattuck's intention is to condone or absolve anyone from their burden of responsibility concerning the horrors of the Holocaust but rather to help us interpret their choices within a more subtle context.

The more I read the more I learn that history is murky and morally complex or, put another way, there's a lot of gray area between black and white. At the same time, we humans are creatures of habit, and so it's incumbent upon us to learn from our past. I am mindful of the minefield that it is comparing Hitler and other fascists dictators to contemporary political figures but I also think that the parallels between pre-Nazi Germany and what we are seeing in Europe and America today are highly disturbing and difficult to ignore. My heartfelt belief is that if we choose to do so, we do it at our own peril.

The two most pressing questions we ask ourselves when we think about the rise of Nazism are: How did the Germans allow the rise of Hitler and the horrors that followed? and What would we have done under similar circumstances?

In this novel, Shattuck strives to help us find answers to the first one and challenge us to do some soul-searching on the second. My personal conclusion? "Good" Germans, ordinary people, like you and me, allowed the Holocaust to happen.

Recommended for anyone looking for an engaging, thought-provoking work of historical fiction.
April 17, 2017
5 Stunning Stars

The Women in the Castle is a remarkable, elegant and well-crafted story that left me quietly closing my eyes and thinking about each character and contemplating their stories and decisions. Giving me a highly satisfying feeling.

I was highly engaged in the relationships of these three interesting and memorable women and their stories that took me on an emotional journey as I learned how their relationships formed, grew and changed. They are flawed, damaged and brave women who create some of their own damage that left me sympathetically frustrated, and heartbroken at times. I loved the unlikely and uneasy relationships of the widowed women and their families that were bonded together by a vow made by Marianne who is haunted by the war. This interesting and unique story gave me new insight and a different perspective on WWII from what I have read before.

The Women in the Castle is a heartbreaking and heartwarming story that I highly recommend.

All of Norma’s & my reviews can be found on our Sister Blog:
Profile Image for emma.
1,869 reviews54.6k followers
July 14, 2020
one of my most unpopular bookish opinions is that about 50% of all historical fiction is completely interchangeable to me.

this is part of that 50%.

that's all the review i've got.

2.5 stars


i love to receive advance copies of books and then read them 3 years after they come out

i won this book in a goodreads giveaway. i know i am the worst
Profile Image for Lindsay L.
679 reviews1,324 followers
May 5, 2017
4 stars! This was an intriguing and important WWII novel that I thoroughly enjoyed.

This book tells the story of the connection of three very different women living in a German castle before, during and after WWII – the novel examines their struggles, secrets, motherhood challenges, hopes and relationships that helped them endure these grueling years. I liked each of the main characters, Marianne, Ania and Benita. They each grew on me more and more as I read further into their personal backgrounds and history.

A few times throughout the story, I did find myself feeling a bit lost which is my reason for taking away one star. I found the place names and some of the historical references were slightly confusing at times. I had to go back a chapter and confirm dates several times to ensure I was following the timeline properly as each chapter skips to a new time and location. For this reason, it was a book I needed to take the time to fully immerse myself in, avoiding any outside distraction. I also wish there would have been more depth given to the resistance fighters and what their specific missions and goals were (we knew the main goal). I found that part of the story very interesting but I finished the book feeling hungry for more detail and understanding of exactly what their plans were and how they would go about it (perhaps this is just me though because I always find myself strongly drawn to stories of the resistance fighters – how brave and heroic they were!).

A couple quotes that stood out to me were:

“…Martin would try to find the words to articulate the power of togetherness in a world where togetherness had been corrupted – and to explore the effect of the music, the surprising lengths the people had gone to to hear it and to play it, as evidence that music, and art in general, are basic requirements of the human soul.”

One of the main characters’ personal emotions when seeing a starving, beat down woman at a concentration camp. “But once, it had been the face of a mother or wife. Possibly of a sister or an aunt or a best friend. And underneath the layers of time, the face of someone’s child, a girl some mother diapered and fed and held.” Simply heart breaking.

Overall, this was a captivating historical fiction story that I would highly recommend!
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,327 reviews2,146 followers
May 9, 2017
Not just another World War 2 novel! The Women in the Castle takes a different and intriguing approach, concentrating on the women who are left behind instead of the men who go off to fight.
Especially interesting to me was the way the author dealt with the aftermath, a time of rebuilding and dealing with grief and guilt. We all know stories of battles and glory but the three women in this story show us how hard it must have been to recover from so much damage and to raise children who had themselves seen too much horror.
Some light is also shed on how ordinary Germans fooled themselves as to what was really going on. When Anje sees people being herded into cattle trucks she looks the other way and tries not to analyse what is happening. When people hear reports of Jews being persecuted they refuse to believe the news is true. People wanted to believe in Hitler and so they did.
This is a very readable book. The three main characters are all interesting in their separate ways and their story sucks the reader in and does not let go. It is also beautifully written.
Recommended especially for readers of historical fiction and easily up there with the best World War 2 fiction books.
Profile Image for Tammy.
523 reviews438 followers
July 25, 2016
As I read the first several pages of The Women in the Castle, I knew that this was going to be a good read. What I didn't know was how very good it was going to be. The story follows three widows during the years after World War II. These women are very different people with different strengths, flaws and secrets. They are alike in that they are all German trying to live with what they did or didn't do and the guilt or "moral clarity" that accompanies their actions. Devastating. I highly recommend The Women in the Castle.
Profile Image for Lori Elliott (catching up).
747 reviews1,792 followers
May 17, 2017
As many novels as I've read about WWII this is the first I've read that focuses mainly on its aftermath. I liked that with the characters I was able to garner insight into how non Jewish Germans viewed Hitler and his ideology. I thought the ending was a bit anticlimatic, but overall a very good story.
Profile Image for Bam cooks the books ;-).
1,913 reviews248 followers
November 26, 2016
In this remarkable work of WWII historical fiction, Shattuck tells the story of three German women whose husbands were resistors and were killed for planning the assassination of Hitler. The prologue introduces us to the von Lingenfels family on the night of their annual party--November 9, 1938--the night that would later be called Kristallnacht. The men had slipped into the office at the castle to discuss their plans, when Albrecht von Lingelfels' wife Marianne interrupts. Her childhood friend, Martin Constantine Fledermann, known to his friends as "Connie", appoints Marianne "the commander of wives and children."

At the time she feels a little belittled but later she would replay that last night in her mind, long after both Albrecht and Connie were dead, as well as half the people at the party that night, and takes seriously the responsibility to find and care for the families of the resistors. She first locates Benita, the beautiful young wife of Connie, who is being held and used by Russian soldiers in Berlin. Then she locates Connie's son, Martin, in a German orphanage. Although the castle is in ruins, a few rooms are still inhabitable and a local farmer provides them with vegetables and eggs. Later she is notified that another name on her list has been identified by American soldiers as residing in a Displaced Persons Camp and Marianne travels there to extend an offer to Ania and her children to join their little group of survivors.

Through their experiences, we get to know these three woman extremely well--their past, their secrets, their hopes for a new life--and the reader will not soon forget these remarkable characters as they suffer through post-war horrors.

Many thanks to the publisher William Morrow for providing me with an advanced reader's copy of this remarkable new work of historical fiction written from the unique point of view of three German women who struggled to survive the war and its aftermath against all odds.
Profile Image for Erin.
3,094 reviews484 followers
July 19, 2017
3 stars -3.5 stars.

Earlier this year, The Women in the Castle was alighting my newsfeed with early praise and fantastically written reviews. I find myself sort of middle of the road with my feelings on the story. The synopsis of the book and my other reviewers give a great rundown of the plot, so I'll jump into my holiday thoughts.

What I liked:

1) Jessica Shattuck really created an atmosphere of Germany from the perspective of three very determined and strong minded women living in Nazi Germany and dealing with the aftermath of the war. I think each of these women managed to make me like/dislike them during different periods of the story.

2) The continuing battles Germans of that period and their children continued to face in the years after the war. Who were the victims? Who were the guilty? Why didn't their parents do anything or did they do enough? I especially appreciated the contrast between the German/American divide among the women and their children and the speculation of what lessons one generation has learned but another may have forgotten.

3) As the story evolved, I like how my own thoughts and feelings were constantly changing and that definitely makes this book a talking piece.

What I struggled with
(1) I have a personal fear that a person or a group of people would read this book and consider that Adolf Hitler was solely responsible for what took place. One of the characters tirelessly seems to be pointing out him as the lone culprit. Now I understand that this is clearly reflective of how the German people felt as he was the head of state, but we should never forget that there were willing participants, those that agreed wholeheartedly with the Nazi government(we do see a bit of that with one storyline) and there were millions of bystanders that did nothing all over the world (not just in Germany). Now, I get it! This book is centered around a different perspective-German women that were married to men that did things that they are left to grapple with. Certainly after the war, many Germans felt the need to separate themselves from the camps and the death marches.

2) So one of these characters is pegged as a woman in the Resistance movement, but I felt there were big holes in her part as a central figure. However, I never was convinced. Too many chunks of time missing in the story.

3) The last part of the story was boring. As much as I could appreciate the contrast as time goes on, I wasn't immersed anymore -just bored!

Not one of my favorites!
Profile Image for Libby.
594 reviews156 followers
September 23, 2021
Some descriptive words for ‘The Women in the Castle’ by Jessica Shattuck are intense, thought provoking, and ‘meaty.’ Meaty as in substantial and rich in flavors and layers. For me, this was not the quick read, but a little more slow because of it’s intensity.

The story takes up at the castle Burg Lingenfels, in Germany in 1938. Main character Marianne von Lingelfels is the niece-in-law of the countess who is hosting a party at the castle (in fact Marianne is much more the hostess). The party goers are intellectuals and academics that avidly discuss Germany’s political situation, especially the fact that Hitler is now centerstage.

Marianne’s husband, Albrecht, is opposed to Hitler’s aggression, which is the sentiment of the couple’s close circle of friends. Shattuck describes Albrecht as “a deliberator…...his own emotions were never complicated or petty. He was the sort of man who contemplated grand abstractions like the Inalienable Rights of Man or the Problems of Democracy while shaving.”

Marianne is described as “the product of an oppressively proper Prussian upbringing." "The countess had always been an object of admiration(to Marianne). The woman was unafraid to step beyond the role of mother and Hausfrau into the fray of male power and intellectual life. She spoke her own mind and did things her own way.”

These descriptions are key insights. Marianne admires the countess and aspires to be like her. Albrecht does not play a large role in this novel, but his description gives the reader some appreciation of themes that will follow. Head in the clouds intellectualism versus boots on the ground pragmatism.

At the party we also meet Connie Fledermann. Shattuck writes, “Connie was a great favorite of the countess’s, a star in his own right, a man whose boldness of character, wit, and intelligence rendered him beloved by all - a charmer of ladies, a receiver of men’s trust and confidences. No one, from crazy Hermann Goring to somber George Messersmith, was immune to Connie’s charisma.”

And Connie’s fiance, “Benita, a strikingly pretty woman with the kind of flat, Nordic face that emanated placidity. Her blond hair was plaited and wrapped around her head in the style so adored by the Nazis.” The reader learns in the next few sentences that Marianne is jealous - “the other woman’s beauty left her nowhere to go. At thirty-one, Marianne was an adult in a child’s play, a schoolmarm among excitable students.”

It’s not a spoiler to reveal that Albrecht and Connie are soon hung for their part in Hitler’s assassination attempt, for this happens before chapter one. At the countess’s party, Connie had charged Marianne with looking out for his bride to be and as yet unborn child if anything should happen to him. That is the central plot of ‘The Women in the Castle,’ Marianne gathering wives and children of resisters. Chapter one takes up in 1945 with Marianne rescuing Benita from an outpost of Soviet soldiers. Shattuck writes, “Benita’s first time was not the worst. The soldier had been clean.”

Connie’s and Benita’s son, Martin, had been placed in a Children’s Home. There he was known as Martin Schmidt, a good German name. Then Marianne arrived to claim Martin and reunite him with his mother. He is six years old. With Marianne and her children, Elisabeth, Katarina, and Fritz, Benita and Martin make a home at the castle Burg Lengenfels. Shattuck crosses back and forth in time from before the war to after the war and sometimes, during the war. The transitions are fairly seamless and let the reader understand much more about the characters.

Rounding out the cast of the three women in ‘The Women in the Castle’ is Ania Grabarek. Ania and her sons, Anseim and Wolfgang are found in the Tollingen Displaced Persons Camp. Ania is the most practical woman out of the three. She knows how to cook for numbers of people, how to garden, how to sew, and which herbs can be used for healing. When Marianne tells a band of ex-prisoners, released from a Nazi stalag, that they cannot eat Herr Kellerman’s horse, Ania says simply, “The men are starving.” Ania is also not who Marianne thinks she is and that is a secret bound into the tale.

Shattuck very craftily introduces us to these three women, who in my opinion represent something of the soul of Germany during the time of Hitler. Marianne is intellectual and a leader, Benita is bright and beautiful and a follower, and Ania is tireless and practical, and keeps secrets. They become friends bound together by experiences that are harrowing, and others that are the humdrum necessities of everyday life.

Themes that resonate in ‘The Women in the Castle’ are guilt and shame, forgiveness and betrayal, the meaning of life, and one of my favorites, silence.

The theme of silence is shown by the Germans inability to speak up when things were going wrong, their inability at times to speak up in their own defense, and the silence of women because they felt powerless to defend themselves against men. The theme of silence resonates when such horrible things happen that they become unspeakable.

Silence is also something to be pursued. Martin admires the silence of Anselm and Wolfgang. “The Grabarek boys, Anselm and Wolfgang, were even more silent than their mother, which was fine with Martin, who grew tired of Fritz’s endless chatter.....”

““Martin, do you want to come with us?” Katarina asked.

Martin declined. He would join Anselm and Wolfgang. He had spent enough time with the girls, who were always chattering and worrying and bickering with each other. The Grabareks, on the other hand, were silent and knowing. They shared a language of glances and nods, by which they communicated. They could walk across the fields kicking a stone back and forth, making a game of it without ever stating the rules. Martin admired their self containment.”

This book runs deep. I am glad to have read it after 'We Were the Lucky Ones,' by Georgia Hunter, a story about a family of Jews in Poland, because I have a broader appreciation of very opposite viewpoints. In 'The Women in the Castle' Marianne, shows the most growth as a character because she is able at the end to clearly see her flaw. It seems she is finally able to understand that life cannot always be intellectualized and that circumstance plays a huge role in the choices people make. There is also a wonderful cast of minor characters that add much. In fact, Shattuck chooses to end her novel with a minor character and like the most haunting note of a ballad, it's pitch perfect.
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
633 reviews349 followers
April 1, 2017
I’ve read many WWII books and friends may note that I’m often not singing praises to those written by women too heavily influenced with female energy, melodrama, and romance. For example, I was not as enamored with The Nightingale to which this has been compared. I say it's more in league with All the Light We Cannot See. Initially I was not interested in this until I read early reviews from friends who told me this one might be more to my liking (Oh thank you wise readers). Edelweiss and HarperCollins graciously approved my request for a pre-publication e-galley and the rest is reader’s appreciation history.

Jessica Shattuck has produced an insightful and emotionally charged read and done so with three women in the lead character roles. This is an expertly rendered human drama illuminating Germans in a beloved homeland before and after Hitler ruthlessly powered through Europe and shattered millions of lives and history. Through a “collection of choices and circumstances” Marianne, Betina, and Ania will call forth personal determination to make it through the apocalypse. To paraphrase: There was so much between the black and the white where most people lived in the gray fog of war. These women were built for love, yet love was dead to their generation. They will call forth the power of togetherness in a world where togetherness has been corrupted. I loved how the author brought to life the individual and shared stories, as well as the power of their forged and flawed, yet treasured friendships during the harshest of times and its legacy. This is the kind of rich, intelligent storytelling I yearn for and appreciate.

Years ago I had a lovely friend Paula who told me stories of her life in Germany and of the daring and successful escape of her husband who was in prison and scheduled to be executed for speaking out against Hitler. She and this book have helped to restore balance to my mother’s solid German heritage which had always taken the back row seat in our post WWII baby-boomer family. I assume my parents preferred to identify with my father’s Scots-Irish side after he returned from the war. I believe my great-grandparents, who settled into American farming life after being processed through Ellis Island, their progeny, and my friend, would applaud this story which brings into focus a people who have largely been ignored and were caught up in a terrible history-in-the-making they could not see coming and could not control once it was unleashed. Gut gemacht Ms. Shattuck.
Profile Image for Tania.
1,234 reviews285 followers
May 1, 2017
She half knew - but there is no word for that. She knew it the way you know something is happening far away in a distant land, something you have no control over...

One of the things I really liked about this book is that it provided some insight into how Germans lived after WWI, and why some of them became Nazis. It also looks at the guilt experience after WWII. Through the three main characters, Marianne, Benita and Ania we are shown very different lives in this same harsh setting, and how people could make very different choices in the same situation. I though Marianne's was very well written, but Ania's story was the one that was most interesting. They are all beautifully flawed. A thought-provoking HF novel about the cost of survival. Highly recommended.

The Story: The Women in the Castle tells of the relationship between three women, each of whom suffers loss and tragedy during and after World War II. It’s a story of secrets that are held in for decades—secrets that affect relationships.
Profile Image for ☮Karen.
1,535 reviews9 followers
June 12, 2017
I have read so many excellent stories of World War II, and after a while they seem to blend into one another with just a few of them remaining especially memorable. Also just a few have brought real tears to my eyes as I don't easily cry over books. This was one, and I already know it is going to be a story I remember and think back on for a long time to come. The writing is so gorgeous and fraught with emotion, and the characters are so very real and sympathetic.

Marianne is the niece-in-law of a German countess, living in the family castle in the woods of Bavaria when her husband and best friend from childhood, both men in the German Resistance, fail in an attempt to assassinate Hitler and are themselves killed. Marianne keeps her promise to her friend to find his wife Benita and son Martin and keep them safe once the war is over. Not only does she find them, but another widow named Ania and her children also come to live in the castle. Ania is quiet and secretive but turns out to be a good housemate, and the three women form a type of life taking care of each other.

Marianne is one with a good heart, and good intentions that will end up going wrong. The story takes many turns, some quite sad, some just heartbreaking. Once Ania's true past is revealed about three-fourths into the book, I became glued to the pages. And from there it just got better and better. Very powerful and impactful, it delves into how the people who remained in Germany after the war were affected. Those who were displaced, left with nothing, and those who cared enough to help their fellow citizens. I also hadn't read many books on the German Resistance, so found that fascinating and relevant.

I won an ARC from LibraryThings that never arrived so then obtained a finished copy direct from the publisher.
Profile Image for Beverly.
835 reviews313 followers
November 5, 2017
If you liked The Nightingale, you will probably enjoy this tale of strong, resilient women on the wrong side of WW 2. It is down right hard to make those on the wrong side of history sympathetic, but here it is accomplished. I was hesitant at first, because I disliked The Reader and hated Gone With the Wind, but this book was a pleasant surprise. She doesn't sugarcoat the wrongs committed by "ordinary Germans", but she illustrates how horror can happen anywhere.
Profile Image for Connie G.
1,738 reviews475 followers
December 15, 2017
Albrecht von Lingenfel and his friends in the German resistance conspired to bring down Adolf Hitler. When their plans fail, the group of men are executed. The widowed Marianne von Lingenfel searches for the wives and children of the other conspirators to offer them a home in the decaying family castle after World War II ends. She finds Benita, Ania, and their children living in various terrible circumstances.

The backstories of these women are fascinating. Through their pasts we see the initial appeal of Hitler to some ordinary Germans before the horrors began. Hitler used economic programs, youth events, national pride, and scapegoating to gain followers. We see reactions in the characters ranging from complicity to resistance to the Nazis. After the war the widows had to rebuild their lives in a time of shortages, raise their children, and deal with the nightmares of having been displaced persons. They each had dark secrets and guilt that they keep hidden within themselves. When faced with difficult moral choices, things were not always black and white.

It was interesting to read a book about the end of World War II from the points of view of three German women coming from very diverse social, economic, and political backgrounds. The plot had some surprises that kept me turning the pages.
Profile Image for Kathy.
1,713 reviews23 followers
April 12, 2017
Although I appear to be in the vast minority, and usually love this genre of book (historical fiction, especially related to WWII), The Women in the Castle just fell flat for me. Perhaps it was because I have read far better books in this genre, but the characters really felt flat to me, and never came alive as I hoped. I found I just didn't care about them. I almost feel like I should apologize, but I won't. This book either hit me at the wrong time, or just isn't for me.

Many thanks to Goodreads and William Morrow Publishers for giving me a copy of the book to read and review.
Profile Image for Wilma.
106 reviews51 followers
July 14, 2018
Drie Duitse vrouwen die elkaar leren kennen tijdens WOII...Marianne, Benita en Ania...alle drie weduwe van verzetsstrijders. Ieder met een eigen verleden en eigen karakter... en de daaruit voortvloeiende keuzes die ze maken...samen overleven ze de oorlog...
Marianne met haar zwart witte kijk op de wereld, haar rechtlijnige blik op goed en kwaad veroordeelt Benita en Ania voor de keuzes die ze willen maken of hebben gemaakt. Op latere leeftijd overpeinsd ze haar leven en heeft hier spijt van.
Ik werd getriggerd door het thema van het verhaal...er is weinig geschreven over Duitse verzetsweduwen tijdens WOII...het verhaal echter wist me maar matig te boeien...jammer...
Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,923 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.