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Review: The Women in the Castle

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Title:The Women in the Castle

Author:Jessica Shattuck

Series: Standalone

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩

*Note:Thank you to HarperCollins for sending me for this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

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Synopsis

This story is set at the end of WWII, and it follows the story of three widows–wives of resistors. Marianne is the strongest of the three, always confident in her decisions and what is right and wrong. Benita lives bitter over all the wasted opportunities and crushed dreams but tries to remain naive and innocent when it comes to Germany’s history. And Ania, quiet and guarded, follows closely behind Marianne. While they are all different they are held together by a necessity for safety and security. Through their individual tales, we get more insight into the different people that lived through this period.

divider-51Favorite Characters

Marianne was likable in that she is the kind of person that was really needed in Germany in the beginning. She’s righteous and has a strong moral compass. She never hesitates to do what’s right and stand up for others. She’s fearless when it comes to helping those who need it.

Although we find out some things about Ania I still really enjoyed her backstory. I think it was very true of many Germans during that time. I could appreciate her ambivalence and hesitance, and her shame and regret.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like Benita. She was still very well written–I just didn’t like how willing she was to overlook everything in the past in order to find her own happiness or gains.

divider-51Favorite Scenes

► I think this really speaks to her character. For Benita, there’s only room to focus on what’s going on in the present. I don’t think she’s necessarily cruel of insensitive, but she just isn’t as capable of caring about the larger picture when there’s everything else to worry about. For Marianne, all that mattered was the past and keeping it alive so that we wouldn’t make the same mistakes. While well intentioned I think it kept her from ever moving on, and that’s why she and Benita clashed so much.

Benita had no illusions. She was an animal like the rest of them, no more concerned with their pain and suffering than they were with hers.

► I liked that she thought to consider these things and how meaningless they became. There was so much detail to the book that just made it read like actual people that lived during that time with all the things they thought about.

What was the point of a Chinese silk pinafore sewn by Weisslau’s finest tailor when you didn’t even have a pair of shoes? Or a Meissen china tea service, transported without so much as one chipped plate, when there was no tea, no bread, no table to eat at? He had anticipated disaster but not lived to see its depths.

► Again, I really admired Marianne for her strength and bravery in standing up even when others wouldn’t. She was never afraid to stand up to the masses, never cared more about her appearance than what was right.

“For shame,” Marianne spat. “Have you become such monsters that you can laugh at that?” The girls stared at her, not with shame or anger but with fear. And all around her Marianne felt the people draw close together, tightening their scarves and jackets, squaring their shoulders, fortifying themselves against her reproach.

► I think this is what Marianne missed out on because of all her strong morals. She could never move on from the past even when everyone else was starting to rebuild their lives.

It made her notice more, think more, and find the humor and interest in the little things. The chickens Marianne was raising proved endlessly entertaining–it was a miracle that they survived under her care! And Fritz and Martin’s mischief became less galling when she wrote about it. Life was so much brighter and more vivid once she had a reason to observe it closely.

► This was really one of the biggest themes of the book, which made sense and I loved. There were reasons to see both sides of this, and I couldn’t really say one was more right or wrong than the other.

Marianne stared at her. It was so selfish and cowardly! It made her blood boil. Benita was always looking out for her own interest, her own comfort. “You think the past is like one of your dolls? That you can just–teat it up and begin over again?

divider-51Review

This book captured so many different views and beliefs of a nation within the lives of three women: Marianne, Benita, and Ania–women who lived in a man’s world but who were left behind to pick up the pieces of their broken lives. Marianne, a strong woman who is unwavering in her beliefs of right and wrong; Benita, a dreamer who wants nothing but to leave the horrors behind and begin anew; Ania, an enigma who hides a history of shame.

The writing in this book really pulled me in from the start. Shattuck did an amazing job of making all the characters come to life. Each of the women was distinct and showed a different side of what it was like being in WWII. I think it’s a common to ask “How could this be allowed to happen”, and she really answers that with Ania’s backstory (which was one of my favorite parts).

There was also the driving need to forget the horror and be happy again, but there were also those who couldn’t live with themselves if they forgot. For some, it was important to never forget and never let it happen again.

She also gave the story hope in the lives of the women’s children. Through them, the women were able to redeem themselves, and help them find the happiness they never could. In the end, it was a story about learning to accept the past while still moving forward. Surprisingly, it was Benita that really helped Marianne see this and helped her mend her relationship with Ania.

The story went along at a fairly steady pace. I think it may have started off a little slow but it definitely picked up afterward. I liked that the story focused on their lives and experiences while leaving WWII more in the background. It was certainly an important setting and driving force for all of them, but it was less about the violence and horrors, and more about the decisions one makes.

I highly recommend this book if you like historical fiction, it’s a fantastic read so definitely check it out the next time you’re at the bookstore!

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