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The Women in the Castle


The Women in the Castle

When I began reading THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE, the blindingly wonderful new novel from Jessica Shattuck, I realized that I’ve been on a bit of a World War II-themed book binge lately. I partly blame it on family history. My grandfather served in the Navy, my grandmother at an Air Force base during the war. My other grandfather was a collier in an English coal mine and was turned down by the RAF because his work was deemed more vital to the war effort; my English grandmother survived the London Blitz. The atrocities of that time were so great that I think people crave books about it to try and understand why and how, and, hopefully, as a warning, a method of prevention.

Part of what is so compelling about THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE is that the majority of it takes place in Germany after the war has ended, as the Allies are beginning the “denazification” of remaining party members and replacing the scores of Displaced Peoples left in the wake of mass devastation. In an ancient castle in western Germany we meet Marianne von Lingenfels, a steady, determined woman who is the widow of Albrecht von Lingenfels, a resistor who was part of the failed assassination plot against Hitler in 1944. On the eve of war in 1938, Marianne promised to look after the women and children of the men involved in the plot; if things went badly and they were dispatched, she was to do what she could to help their families survive.

"THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE is thoroughly enjoyable.... The writing is clean, the storytelling is solid, and Shattuck paints a vivid portrait of a reeling, recovering Germany and the humanity contained within it."

To this end, Marianne begins a search of prisons and DP camps in 1945 in hopes of finding the widows and children of her husband’s fellow resistors. She must, in particular, locate Benita Fledermann and her son Martin, the wife and child of Marianne’s dearest childhood friend Connie --- short for Constantine --- who made her promise to always look after them. She finds six-year-old Martin in a children’s home outside Berlin, where he was taken after his father was hanged and his mother was sent to prison for being married to a traitor. Marianne finds Benita in Berlin, a shell of the young woman she once had been and the “property” of a Russian captain. Still, resourceful Marianne takes her and Martin back to Burg von Lingenfels, the ancient castle of which she is now the proprietor, and nurses them back to health along with her own three children.

Some months later, Marianne receives word that one of the women from the list she gave to a helpful American captain has turned up in a nearby DP camp. Marianne rescues the woman, Ania Grabarek, and her two sons, though she can’t place ever meeting them. The three women and six children survive the aftermath of the war together in the crumbling castle. It helps that Marianne is a von Lingenfels, one of the ancient Bavarian families, and so they are afforded certain perks --- like boxes full of oranges and chocolate and other presents at Christmas --- that most other Germans are not. But there are secrets harbored inside the women, things they have done and seen during the years of the war, that they cannot share, even as they become one another’s family and their lives are irreversibly entwined.

THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE is thoroughly enjoyable. The plot moves along and propels you to keep reading. The narrative allows the reader to see things from the perspective of each of the women and spans the years of their lives so one gains complete pictures of the characters. The writing is clean, the storytelling is solid, and Shattuck paints a vivid portrait of a reeling, recovering Germany and the humanity contained within it.

Reviewed by Sarah Jackman on March 31, 2017

The Women in the Castle
by Jessica Shattuck

  • Publication Date: January 2, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 006256367X
  • ISBN-13: 9780062563675