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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
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.
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.
Jessica Shattuck - from her site – Photo by Dorothea von Haeften
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.
"The historian will tell you what happened, the novelist will tell you what it felt like.”***********************************************
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...