Where to begin with THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE?
For starters: if you think you’ve read every WWII historical fiction book there is and can’t fit another into your reading schedule, please let me urge you that you have room to read just one more. THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE by Jessica Shattuck is the one.
Not only are the characters perfectly flawed and wonderfully frustrating in the actions they take – and can’t seem but help to take – because, after all, they are human…but also, they are fully realized characters.
The backdrop of a European castle and all of the images it conjures, juxtaposed with the horrors of war and genocide, is truly riveting. Add to that Jessica Shattuck’s beautiful, literary writing style and three strong women, and I was hooked from the start. But what struck me the most was the author’s ability to answer, at least in part, the question on nearly everyone’s mind: how (early on) did an entire nation – most of it – fall victim to Hitler’s brainwashing propaganda? Through one of the characters, we can actually ‘see’ and ‘feel’ how manipulative Hitler’s messages were and in the smallest of ways, understand how some were swept away by false promises, how others were forced into war, and see how still others, even later when they knew what was happening to Jewish citizens, turned a blind eye.
Don’t get me wrong. This is NOT a novel about absolving anyone of the guilt and responsibility of the absolute horrors of the Holocaust. In fact, it is quite the opposite. THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE is, at its heart, about the struggles of a nation in understanding and coming to terms with its own culpability, and as individuals. It is a story of survival, choices, and redemption, ultimately. And yet, it is not in any way preachy. It is gutting, to be sure. But for that reason, it’s a book that should be required reading by the world. It’s a reminder of the worst possible use of power. It is an introspective look at the Holocaust that is both terrifying and difficult and necessary.
THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE is mentioned as a book for fans of THE NIGHTINGALE, but for me personally, it was a much more engaging read. What THE NIGHTINGALE lacked in emotional depth, resonance, and character connection, this book provided in spades. In fact, I’m not sure the two books really should be compared, aside from the time period and war they both cover. Highly recommend. Lots of surprises and unanswered questions, this book will keep you flipping pages.
(A version of this review was published by Melissa Crytzer Fry at GoodReads on Jan 28, 2017. It is reposted here with the permission of the author.)