Book of the Week: The Women in the Castle – Jessica Shattuck

In a season of very good books, I’d argue this is the most important novel we’ll publish this spring. It’s the story of three German women in the impoverished aftermath of WWII, coming to terms with their lives, their country, and what has been done in their names. Haunting, cautionary…a terrific read.

From the day the manuscript started circulating in-house, people were talking about it. And that has continued through the early reads. I’ve rarely gotten so much feedback and so many bookseller nominations for Indie Next. (It’s next month’s #1 pick.)

Part of what makes the novel so compelling is that it’s hard to read The Women in the Castle in 2017 America and not feel a little shiver of familiarity in this story of everyday people being seduced by an authoritarian government that promises greatness again while delivering a great evil in which all are eventually complicit.

Author Jessica Shattuck’s grandparents were Nazis during WWII and she wrote recently about how that experience informed this novel:

My grandmother heard what she wanted from a strong leader who promised simple answers to complicated questions. She chose not to hear and see the monstrous sum those answers added up to. And she lived the rest of her life with the knowledge of her indefensible complicity. But in her willingness to talk about a subject few members of her generation would, she taught me the vital importance of knowing better.”

The book is not a simple polemic, though. Its deep literary satisfaction lies in the personal stories of three women rebuilding their lives after the war. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, author of last year’s blockbuster, The Nest, comments that:

Shattuck’s arresting novel focuses on three very different women who are forced to rely on one another as they attempt to survive the past and reclaim hope. The writing is magnificent, as is Shattuck’s ability to render unimaginable circumstances with tremendous clarity and compassion. A joy to read, this is a beautiful and important book.”

The Women in the Castle is set to be covered everywhere, starting with NPR’s Weekend Edition, NYTBR, Washington Post, USA Today, NY Post, Parade, Boston Globe, Marie Claire and O, The Oprah Magazine. Along with being the #1 Indie Next Pick for April, it is a LibraryReads Pick and Book Page has selected it as its top pick for April.

Don’t miss this one. It’s a beautiful and important book.

“Shattuck explores the lives of three widows at the tail end of World War II in this redemptive tale…. As new chapters in their lives are written, the women come to rely on each other as a makeshift family—much as the entire country, reeling after the horrors of the war, must imagine a new future and forge a new identity. Shattuck’s latest has an intricately woven narrative with frequent plot twists that will shock and please. The quotidian focus of the story, falling on the period just after the war, provides a unique glimpse into what the average German was and was not aware of during World War II’s darkest months. Shattuck’s own German heritage and knack for historical details adds to the realism of the tale. A beautiful story of survival, love, and forgiveness.”
 Publishers Weekly

In this primer about how evil invades then corrupts normal existence, Shattuck delivers simple, stark lessons on personal responsibility and morality… Neither romantic nor heroic, Shattuck’s new novel seems atypical of current World War II fiction but makes sincere, evocative use of family history to explore complicity and the long arc of individual responses to a mass crime.”
Kirkus Reviews

 “The reader is fully immersed in the experiences of these women, the choices they make, and the burdens they carry.  Shattuck has crafted a rich, potent, fluently written tale of endurance and survival.”
 Booklist (starred review)

 “Men wreak the havoc of war and women are left to manage the postwar mayhem…. Jessica Shattuck brilliantly takes on the struggles of three women in postwar Germany, wives of resistors who are brought together to live in a crumbling castle by the well-meaning but imperious Marianne von Lingenfels.   The women Marianne brings to her castle carry dark secrets and dreams for better lives for themselves and their children while struggling to come to terms with what it took to survive the war.
–  Cathy Langer, Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, CO

This is a beautifully written and moving book about three very different, strong, flawed women set in Germany before, during, and after World War II. The combined perspectives of Marianne, Benita, and Ania offer a fascinating glimpse into a time and place in history where people’s morals seemed broken, and where forgiveness was desperately needed but hard to come by. I loved every moment of this heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful book!”
–  Stephanie Schindhelm, Boulder Book Store, Boulder, CO

 “[This] will be at the top of my 2017 list of great books.  This is a WWII novel, but it is not about Nazis or concentration camps, rather Germans who couldn’t believe what they were seeing, who endured hardships and watched their families disappear.  Shattuck shows us this unique point of view through three German women of differing backgrounds.  Her prose is wonderful and the variance in voice is outstanding.  I found this moving, engaging and recent parallels chilling and thought provoking.”
 Karin Barker, The Bookworm of Edwards, Edwards, CO

“A gripping, sweeping story about the devastation of war and the resilience of human dignity, Women in the Castle is not to be missed. Jessica Shattuck has created three daring, empathetic, and deeply flawed women who witnessed the rise of the Nazi Party and, in some cases, fell sway to its perverse propaganda. Under the rule of a barbaric regime, and in the painful aftermath after its collapse, Marianne, Benita, and Ania must determine where their loyalties lie, and whether to accept the horrifying truths of Germany’s crimes or hide behind willful ignorance. Full of vivid detail about women’s lives in WWII Germany, I could not stop reading this book.”
  Maggie Kane, Between the Covers, Harbor Springs, MI

“[A] powerful story of how three widows of German war resisters coped in the aftermath of their husbands’ deaths. With a completely unique perspective the author has created an immersive and thought provoking story. I hesitate to say a novel about this difficult time is a really good read…but this one definitely is…. There is a sensitivity and grace to Shattuck’s writing which I found powerful and deeply moving. Ultimately this is a tale of struggle, complicated relationships, loyalty and reconciliation.”
– Sharon Gambin, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

The Women in the Castle (9780062563668) by Jessica Shattuck. $26.99 hardcover. 3/28/17 one day laydown.

Video: The Women in the Castle – Jessica Shattuck

 

Just in: This very good author video for one of my favorite books of early 2017. It’s such an important and moving read. I’ll share more about the book before publication. Booksellers, if you have an ARC and haven’t picked it up yet…get on it! You’ll be glad you read this one early.

“Fans of The Nightingale and other classic World War II stories will fall in love with this compelling new perspective on women at war.”
— Helen Simonson, New York Times bestselling author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

The Women in the Castle (9780062563668) by Jessica Shattuck. $26.99 hardcover. 3/28/17 one day laydown.