Before the war began, Marianne von Lingenfels's husband was one of those who predicted how bad things would become. Along with Marianne's longtime friend, Connie, and a band of others, the men planned an attempt on Hitler's life; Marianne promised take care of the wives and children if anything went wrong.
By the end of the war, the castle the von Lingenfels line once called home is a crumbling mess. But Marianne and her children have taken up residence there nonetheless. It's the perfect base for her mission - searching out any of the remaining family of those who were involved in the failed assassination. Difficult as it is, her efforts are not in vain. She's managed to find Connie's wife and son - Benita and Martin - and the wife and two sons of another conspirator as well - Ania, Wolfgang, and Anselm. But the women are keeping secrets. And as Marianne attempts to hold them all together, those secrets threaten their new bond.
While The Women in the Castle is the latest in a string of WWII fiction, it is definitely amongst the best of the trend. And it offers up a look at German life during the war, which I've not actually come across prior to this. German life from the viewpoint of three very different women.
Marianne is idealistic and strong in her beliefs. So much so that she becomes more than a little too staunch, maybe, in her judgement of her fellow Germans. Not all by any means, but a few specific cases. Her own thoughts on Hitler's stance were middling at times, until faced with the true horror of the atrocities going on around her, that is, which is likely why she's so hard on others.
Her views on Benita are more that of looking down on a child than a fellow widow. And unfortunately Benita doesn't do much to change this. Ania, meanwhile, holds everything close. She's a practical woman, something Marianne respects.
Each of them has suffered. Each of them has witnessed truly awful things. And each of them has regrets. But they each have children to think of as well. And having come out of the war alive and together, they find the strength necessary to carry on.
In spite of the way I've portrayed her, Marianne is my favorite of the three. She's strong and idealistic, but also flawed. Her tenacity, though, makes her a natural leader of the group. I feel to say much more about the women would give away too much of their story. As dark as the book unavoidably is, I did enjoy getting to know them and their families.
The Women in the Castle is, as mentioned, darker than The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, for example, but both offer up an authentic and engaging look at life during the war. Shattuck's book most definitely joins the ranks of some of my favorites focused on this era, alongside Chilbury and Jennifer Cody Epstein's The Gods of Heavenly Punishment (another one that, I should add, offers a different perspective than most).
To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.
For more on Jessica Shattuck and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook.