Booktopia, a weekend event in Vermont that brings authors and readers together. Author Jessica Shattuck will be there, so I listened to her latest novel, The Women in the Castle, on audio. This moving story of three widows coming together after WWII kept me captivated.
The novel opens in a Bavarian castle in 1938, where Marianne von Lingenfels is hosting a party with her husband, Albrecht (whose family owns the castle). Her childhood friend, Connie, is there, with his new – very young – wife, Benita, whom Marianne is meeting for the first time. Despite the frivolity, guests are distracted by the Nazi regime and the new war, as Hitler sets his sights on Poland.
From there, the narrative jumps to 1945, after the war has ended and Germany is left in piles of rubble. Marianne and her children are back in the castle, which is also in poor shape after the years of fighting. Albrecht and Connie were both killed in the war, after a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler. For her part, Marianne promised the brave men involved in the resistance movement and the assassination plot to do her best to protect their wives and children. So, she goes about the difficult task of trying to locate them, from a list she has kept.
She first tracks down Martin, Connie and Benita’s son, in an orphanage and then finds Benita herself, who was in the hands of the Russian army in Berlin. With those two in tow, they head back to the castle and set about trying to make a new life for themselves and heal from their various traumas. Soon, Marianne also locates Ania and her two sons, and the ragtag group forms something of a family.
The story follows each of the women and their children in those post-war years, as they try to move forward while hiding shameful secrets from the war. Some chapters flash back to their earlier lives so that the reader gradually gets a more complete picture of each woman. Marianne herself starts out as a very confident and certain woman, seeing the world in black and white, but gradually, her views are softened a bit by her experiences with the other women. The audiobook was very well done, with a German-accented narrator adding authenticity, though you have to pay careful attention to the changes in location and date.
This is an engrossing novel that follows the women and children from 1938 all the way through to present day. Like any war novel, there are many horrifying things that happen to the characters, but the story is mainly focused on healing and moving forward. With its focus on women and WWII and its span of many decades, The Women in the Castle reminded me somewhat of The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, which I just read in November, though that book concentrates on women’s roles during the war, while this one mainly deals with the years after the war. It was an eye-opening and engaging look at the different ways that women in Germany coped with the aftermath of the war and put their lives back together – a perspective not often examined. I'm looking forward to meeting the author.
368 pages, William Morrow
You can listen to an audio sample at the Amazon link below: