Review: The Women in the Castle

Every day, I find myself wondering what will come after the end of the government shut down, at the end of the current presidential term. What comes next? How do we dust ourselves off and forgive or repair the lives broken by the current state of affairs? 

The Women in the Castle answers these questions. One of the many World War II books I’ll recommend to a curious reader, this one stands out not only for Jessica Shattuck’s mastery of craft but also for it’s unique topic, the wives of men felled in an assassination attempt on Hitler’s life. The novel explores those left behind in a fight for justice. They are part of the majority, but consistently use their privilege to speak out (a lesson that carries on easily to today). Centered around the end of the war, this book lends agency to the women and children left behind in the wake of death. 

After Schindler’s List, Holocaust media became commonplace in American society. The Librarian of Auschwitz, Still Alive, and many other memoirs or semi-biographies, exemplify the stories that take place in the camps. More recently, there’s been a trend of war-time literature almost reminiscent of Atonement, like Dunkirk, All the Light We Cannot See, and Salt to the Sea. I think that this refocusing may be evolving further, now to explore how far readers can go to empathize with perpetrators. While the characters of The Women in the Castle are not Nazis, they are certainly not perpetrators. They retain an entire castle property throughout the war. However, they show they reparation efforts and give contemporary readers a lens through which to observe immigration through warfare and the importance of retaining dignity. The book also takes a critical look at class, and just how far prestige, whether through money or proximity, such as being the widow of an anti-fascist martyr. 

It’s a lot of complex historical and ethical theory for a young adult book. However, that’s what makes it so delightful. All of this advanced theory is contained in relatable, evolving characters. It is impossible not to fall in love with these flawed young women and look to them as a model for growing up myself. This winter, I would highly recommend curling up with a tea and reading the optimistic, nearly post-apocalyptic novel The Women in the Castle.

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