Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Women in the Castle

Product Details

Author Jessica Shattuck has been getting plenty of great press for her latest novel "The Women in the Castle." Many reviewers have compared it to Kristin Hannah's "The Nightingale," likely because both novels explore the power of resistance during war time, specifically during and after World War II. It wasn't until I had finished this book that I discovered that Shattuck actually had a personal reason for writing. Her grandmother was a member of the Nazi party in Germany.

While "The Nightingale" was a true tearjerker, the story of the women in the castle is much less emotional but more nuanced and thought-provoking. The castle is the home of Marianne and Albrecht von Lingenfels, wealthy, connected Germans who see the rise of Hitler as a threat to their country and the life they hold dear. In Albrecht's office in the castle, a group of concerned citizens hatch a plot to assassinate the Fuhrer. One of the members of that plan is Connie Flederman, Marianne's childhood friend and dear companion, who tasks her with taking care of his wife should anything happen to him.

We know from history that this attempt on Hilter (Valkyrie) did fail and that the men involved were condemned to death as traitors. Now, as she tries to sort through the aftermath of her husband's execution while raising her three children, Marianne, true to her word, uses her connections to track down the wives and children of the other perpetrators and bring them to the castle. As women on their own in a country now overrun with Russian prisoners of war and American troops, Marianne believes they will find some semblance of safety if they band together.

Through flashbacks we learn about the lives of the other two women. Benita, wife of Connie, is a naïve, small-town girl whose happy-go-lucky nature kept her from thinking deeply about politics and her husband's place in history. Separated from her beloved son Martin, Benita loses the will to live until Marianne rescues both her and Martin, installing them at the castle.

Ania is the single mother of two boys. Not much is known about the fate of her husband but she is tough and practical, joining forces with Marianne to cultivate the land around the castle, providing sustenance for their improvised family and matching Marianne's grit and determination with her own strong will.

How these women form an unbreakable bond is the ostensible storyline but the crux of the novel lies in their back stories. Each has secrets, each has been forced to make morally repugnant decisions. Why they did so and how they chose to live with their pasts and with themselves are the questions at the heart of Shattuck's book. One senses, after reading her own essay about her grandmother, that she is using fiction as a means of working through her own questions about right and wrong and the ambiguous nature of decisions made during wartime.

Spanning three generations and two continents, Shattuck's novel would be a good choice for book groups that aren't afraid of going deep. After all, it's not such a stretch to consider that resistance may once again be necessary to save our way of life. Who will have the courage to step up?

1 comment: