Book Review: The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

Title:  The Women in the Castle
Author: Jessica Shattuck
Publisher: William Morrow, an Imprint of HarperCollins
Release Date:  March 28, 2017
Genre: Literary Fiction / Historical

Three women, haunted by the past and the secrets they hold

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 resister 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 naive Benita, has fallen into the hands of occupying Red Army soldiers. Then she locates Ania, another resister’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.

Written with the devastating emotional power of The Nightingale, Sarah’s Key, and The Light Between Oceans, Jessica Shattuck’s evocative and utterly enthralling novel offers a fresh perspective on one of the most tumultuous periods in history. Combining piercing social insight and vivid historical atmosphere, The Women in the Castle is a dramatic yet nuanced portrait of war and its repercussions that explores what it means to survive, love, and, ultimately, to forgive in the wake of unimaginable hardship.

I don't make a habit of reading books set during World War II, especially the nitty gritty ones that breaks your heart, cause you to shed tears or those that put images in your mind that you can't even imagine.  Once in a very long time do I attempt to read such a book, but lately, more and more have come my way, at least the ones about the aftermaths. The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck spans the period right before (prologue) and right after the war through to the early 1990s, and what a span it is. Fifty years, half a century and still the pain, the hurt, the horrors and the struggles are still so vivid in many's eyes.

The perspective from the Germans' side, particularly our three main characters, The Women in the Castle, readers will be dragged into the world of politics and the consequences of it. From how the world views the country where Hitler originated and reigned, to the views of the German people, and finally those that suffered under this regime to their offspring, readers will understand and sense the poignant life of those left. What words can convey the emotions set forth from this book? The characters were remarkable, each in their own way. Their development, even for the short-lived have left a mark in your mind as you continue the story, page after page. A promise that showed the resilience and tenacity of Marianne compelled me to keep going until the end. I'm shocked by its impact and can see how many compare The Women in the Castle with the same fervor as The Nightingale or Sarah's Keys. Though I have yet to read The Nightingale, Sarah's Keys have truly left the impact emotionally, and I believe The Women in the Castle will as well.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the author/publisher. I was not required to write a positive review, and have not been compensated for this. This is my honest opinion.

For my review policy, please see my Disclosure page.



Jessica Shattuck is the award-winning author of The Hazards of Good Breeding, which was a New York Times Notable Book and finalist for the PEN/Winship Award, and Perfect Life. Her writing has appeared in the New York TimesNew YorkerGlamourMother JonesWired, and The Believer, among other publications. A graduate of Harvard University, she received her MFA from Columbia University. She lives with her husband and three children in Brookline, Massachusetts.


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  1. Wow, that is a ringing endorsement for sure! This is certainly a book that will stay with readers for a long time.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!


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