Synopsis: 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 resistor 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 naïve Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resistor’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.
My Review: This is not the story of WWII nor is it the story of the holocaust, although those events are responsible for this story. This is the story of survival and friendship in the aftermath of a terrible time in history. Jessica Shattuck tells the story of three German women whose husbands were resistors and were killed for planning the assassination of Hitler.
When we meet Marianne von Lingenfels it is at her husband’s aunt’s annual party at the Castle, on the night that will become known as Kristallnacht. She happens upon a meeting of her husband and several other resistors plotting against Hitler. “Connie” Martin Constantine Fledermann, her childhood friend jokingly appoints her Commander of wives and children. She is annoyed, but this title and promise is what brings these three women together. After the war ends, Marianne finds Martin, Connie’s son and Benita his wife, both in unsavory locations/situations and takes them with her to live in The Castle. Shortly after, she receives a call from an American Officer that they have located another wife and children of one of the names she gave them. She moves Ania and her two boys to The Castle from a Displaced Person’s Camp. The story tells about the trials and tribulations these women and children had to deal with during this period. The dangers from roving Russian soldiers, the lack of food and water as well as other creature comforts, yet they were better off than many others. As the story unfolds we learn about their past and how it brought them to where they were and what will become of them in this “New Germany”.
This story is one that needed to be told. I had not heard about what the citizens went through after the war. The scars that they had and the animosity between the resistors and the Nazis. Marianne was a strong woman who took a stand and helped others to the best of her ability. She was not perfect, but she was human. The plot had some slow spots but overall, kept me engaged and I enjoyed this story. A good one for historical fiction lovers. The publisher generously provided me with a copy of this book via Netgalley.