Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

Looking for a World War II novel to fill your historical fiction needs?  The Women in the Castle is a great book for World War II historical fiction novel fans that enjoy such books as The Nightingale, All the Light We Cannot See, etc.   

The Women in the Castle is a unique story told from the German point of view that focuses on three German women who find themselves living in an old run down family castle at the end of the war.  I’ll admit that at first I was annoyed. I thought great – a book told from the German point of view only to find out the three women were all wives of resisters who planned an attempt to assassinate Hitler.  I thought – that is not the typical German woman during WWII!  But as a good novel is want to do, the story shifted and one of the main characters was a typical German woman who went along with everything until she discovered the true depths of horror that the German people had stepped into.  The handling of that part of the story was gripping, horrifying and wonderful all at the same time.

The story is set in four different time periods with flashbacks; Burg Lingenfels (the rundown castle) at a party right before the start of the war in 1938, Burg Lingenfels right after the war in August 1945, Bug Lingenfels in 1950, and Cambridge Massachusetts in July 1991.  I really loved these times periods as they were able to give you a sense of the world before the war and the horror directly after.  The lingering effects of the horror can be seen through the characters through the years.

The characters are multilayered and fascinating.  Marianne von Lingenfels is an aristocrat married to a man who was center at the plot to assassinate Hitler.  After the war and losing her family’s estate, she travels to the old run down castle without modern plumbing and electricity that she feels she can be safe at with her three children.  She searches for the son of her good friend Connie, another conspirator, and his wife Benita who she also brings to the site.  She is on the look-out for any other widows of the heroes against Hitler and finds Ania and her two sons.  Ania is practical and is able to make a feast out of not much and keep the group together.  Benita knows the true horror of war and years to be able to move on in the future with love.  Marianne wants to do what is best for everyone, or what she thinks is best.  Will these three women and their children be able to move on from the horrors of war?

I really liked the unique prospective.  I was particularly drawn by Ania’s back story, which really made one understand how the common person could have been drawn into the horrors of War in Germany.  I also loved Benita’s yearning for moving on with love in her life, but her plot line with Franz made you realize how some people couldn’t move on from the horrors of war.  Even though time passed on, the trauma of what had passed during Germany in WWII was too much for some people to move on to a “normal” life afterwards.  I really liked Ania’s story when juxtaposed with Benita’s.  Discuss further in the comments if you’ve read the book!

My favorite quotes:

“Cats were rare these days – starved, or worse.  Rumor had it that people in the bombed-out cities ate them.”

“It wasn’t until that evening that Marianne remembered the cat and went looking again.  But like half of the living creatures on the continent, it could not be found.”

“Your husband, Marianne’s husband they died for something they knew was right – and the rest of us followed along, did as we were told, and looked away.”

“But it was so hard to say both what was true and also what was required!”

“Our love is not a part of world events and politics.  Our love has always been its own country.”

Overall, The Women in the Castle was an intriguing and unique look into three different women’s lives in Germany before and after WWII.  It was a great historical fiction novel and I highly recommend it.

What is your favorite WWII novel or movie?

Book Source:  Review Copy from William Morrow.  Thank-you!


  1. Laura, this book really does sound intriguing. I enjoyed your excellent review, as well as the quotes you feature. I'm not sure what my favorite WWII novel is. I have only read a handful.

  2. I think I would love this book--interestingly, my Mom, who survived WWII in Canada and England, has made many good friends in the U.S. from Germany who also survived the war. They share hardship stories and there is no bitterness or rancor. They see that they have far more in common than not.

    I'm not sure I have a favorite WWII novel, but I really enjoyed The Nightingale and All the Light We Cannot See.