TITLE: The Women of the Castle
AUTHOR: Jessica Shattuck
GENRE: Historical Fiction
PUBLISHED BY: Bonnier Zaffre
PUBLICATION DATE: 18 May 2017
The Women of the Castle tells the tale of three women, and not only how they cope with both the loss, trials & tribulations of war but also how to survive in the aftermath.
The story begins with aristocratic German Marianne von Lingenfels helping host a party at Burg Lingenfels, her aunt-in-laws family seat. The castle has no electricity or running water as it is not inhabited.
It is November 1938, and the Lingenfels and their friends are nervous about Hitler and his Nazis. They know war is coming and the men hatch a plan to assassinate Hitler. Marianne is more interested in politics and literature than ‘ladylike’ pursuits such as sewing or cooking and fashion, and so she is party to these discussions. During the course of the evening, Connie, her childhood friend dubs her The commander of wives and children, entrusting her with a list of those close to all those involved in the plot. At first Marianne feels somewhat belittled by this, but in time she begins to realize that she is serving an important role by locating and assisting the survivors.
Towards the end of the war, Connie’s wife Benita and their son Martin become the first of her flock, followed by the Polish Ania and her sons. These three become The Women of the Castle as they set up home together in what remains of the old family castle.
Repeatedly raped, Benita is a broken shell of her sunny & beautiful former self. The capable Ania has secrets, and together the three women make the best of what little they have.
After the war is over, the women still have both their present and their pasts to deal with, if they have any hope of surviving the future.
Truths are ultimately uncovered, and friendships are changed forever.
For seven years, Jessica Shattuck conducted research specific to the book and research into her personal family history, combining aspects of both to weave an intricate & truthful tale which is observant & believable.
The Women of the Castle is a touching and compelling read.
“In war, they made impossible choices. Now, they must live with them.” Or so reads a tagline on the cover. To my mind, in times & situations such as those, rather than make choices people simply do what they have to in order to survive; very often there IS no other choices.
The cover image itself is hauntingly atmospheric, and i like the way the women, whilst seemingly so small in comparison to the towering castle (an analogy for ‘the establishment’?), appear strong and solid against the softer muted look of the architecture.
Ratings and Recommendations
The Women of the Castle is both thoughtprovoking and insightful, and I don’t hesitate to award it a 5 out of 5 stars rating.
I recommend it to anyone who enjoys Historical Fiction, in particular the World War Two era, and/or Womens’ History; or those who enjoyed All the Light We Cannot See, The Reader and The Light Between Oceans.
Jessica Shattuck lives in Massachusetts with her husband and 3 children.
You can find out more at jessicashattuck.com or connect with her via Facebook or Twitter.
A Strange Coincidence
Near the beginning of the book, Marianne travels across the country in an effort to retrieve Martin, the son of her childhood friend Connie and his wife Benita, from the Children’s Home where he had been interred after his father had been executed and whilst his mother was held elsewhere.
He was looked after by the elderly Frau Vortmuller, best described as Matron of the home. He later recalls her fondly as she treated her young charges with kindness.
We are told of the Mutterkreuz, or Mother’s Cross; a pinned badge or medal awarded to German women who had borne & raised at least 4 children in a manner befitting the ideals of the government of the time; which she wears with pride.
Whilst I have previous knowledge of this item, I had never seen one, nor indeed was I absolutely certain what it looked like, as I had up until now only read or heard descriptions of these blue and white crosses with a gold star.
Imagine my surprise when, the very next morning after reading this passage, I stumbled upon one whilst browsing the upcoming lots in our local auction house.
It was a somewhat chilling discovery.
Do you enjoy historical fiction? I especially enjoy works (such as this) where you get the impression the author is knowledgeable about the time period they have set their writing in.
Do you have a particular time period you favour when it comes to historical fiction?
As always, thanks for reading!
Hugs, Crafty xxx
Disclosure: I received an ARC of this book; from the publisher, via Readers First; in exchange for an honest review.