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The Women in the Castle

The Women in the Castle

4.7 16
by Jessica Shattuck

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"Moving . . . surprises and devastates."—New York Times Book Review

"A masterful epic."—People magazine

"Mesmerizing . . . The Women in the Castle stands tall among the literature that reveals new truths about one of history’s most tragic eras."—USA Today

Three women,



"Moving . . . surprises and devastates."—New York Times Book Review

"A masterful epic."—People magazine

"Mesmerizing . . . The Women in the Castle stands tall among the literature that reveals new truths about one of history’s most tragic eras."—USA Today

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.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Mary Pols
Shattuck's characters represent the range of responses to fascism. Her achievement—beyond unfolding a plot that surprises and devastates—is in her subtle exploration of what a moral righteousness like Marianne's looks like in the aftermath of war, when communities and lives must be rebuilt, together.
Publishers Weekly
Shattuck (The Hazards of Good Breeding) explores the lives of three widows at the tail end of World War II in this redemptive tale. Marianne von Lingenfels, whose husband was one of many resisters murdered in a failed attempt to assassinate Hitler, returns to the beautiful but dilapidated Bavarian castle, Burg Lingenfels, as the war comes to an end. At the outset of the war she had promised her friend, another resister, that she would watch over his wife Benita and their child if anything happened to him. Seeking safety in numbers after the death of husbands, Marianne invites Benita to live with her—as well as another widow, Ania, and her two sons. 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. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME Entertainment. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Inspired by the Shattuck's (The Hazards of Good Breeding) own grandparents' experience during World War II, this novel follows three German women before, during, and after Hitler's rule. Marianne is the widow of a Resistance leader whose failed attempt to kill the Führer leads her, as an act of personal atonement, to shelter the wives and children of his fellow conspirators within the walls of her family's Bavarian castle. Benita, one of those widows, reluctantly joins this refuge, silently suffering from her war experience until a new love interest ignites tension between her and Marianne. Their rift is amplified by the presence of Ania, the third widow in the castle, whose secrets unravel as she tries to remarry and protect her children. The story line continues through multiple decades, until a reunion forces the three women to reconcile their past behavior toward one another. There are too many ideas in this novel; as each emotional arc builds, the narrative abruptly switches to another character's voice, confusing the reader. Ania's story is most compelling, given her hidden identity, but readers will have to triangulate numerous characters and narrative devices before reaching her reckoning. VERDICT Fans of World War II fiction may want to consider. [See Prepub Alert, 10/31/16; library marketing.]—Tina Panik, Avon Free P.L., CT
Kirkus Reviews
Three German "widow[s] of the resistance," who spend time together at a run-down castle when World War II ends, embody aspects of the catastrophe that overcame their country.Germany, 1945: in this devastated landscape where "no one was innocent," there is misery for all and plenty to spare. Guilt, shame, suffering, and silence go hand in hand as the German people emerge from war and fascism, and Europe is awash with displaced persons. Shattuck's (Perfect Life, 2009, etc.) third novel centers on the von Lingenfels castle, a place of aristocratic indulgence in prewar years, now a ruined shell owned by Marianne von Lingenfels, the widow of Albrecht, one of a group of men who failed in an attempt to assassinate Hitler and were hanged. It's this group which links Marianne to the two other women and their children, whom she invites to the castle for shelter: Benita Fledermann, widow of the charismatic Constantine, who survived the Russian occupation of Berlin but paid a heavy price; and Ania Grabarek, who walked west, out of the wreckage of Poland, with her two sons and is also keeping secrets about what she has seen and done. In this primer about how evil invades then corrupts normal existence, Shattuck delivers simple, stark lessons on personal responsibility and morality. Inevitably, it makes for a dark tale, more a chronology of three overlapping, contaminated, emblematic lives than a plot. Some final uplift does arrive, however, via the views of the next generation, which apply a useful layer of distance and some hope on the sins of the fathers—and mothers. 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.
Redbook Magazine
“If you’re a historical fiction fan, this will be your new favorite novel of 2017. It’s so emotionally powerful there’s a chance the literary-induced chills will stay with you well into summer.”
Booklist (starred review)
“The reader is fully immersed in the experiences of these women, the choices they make, and the burdens they carry. . . . a rich, potent, fluently written tale of endurance and survival.”
Helen Simonson
“Fans of The Nightingale and other classic World War II stories will fall in love with this compelling new perspective on women at war.”
Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
“A vivid and gripping tale of endurance in the wake of World War II. . . . 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.”
Janice Y.K. Lee
“I couldn’t put Jessica Shattuck’s gorgeous novel down, an intricate and intimate portrait of the lives of three women whose fates draw them together in WWII Germany. A wonderful, wonderful read.”
Jamie Ford
“A virtuoso of time and place, Jessica Shattuck has created a heart-smashingly good story that will change the way you look at current events, and leave you asking, ‘What would I do if I were in these characters’ shoes?’ Powerful and prescient, an important book everyone should read.”
Jill McCorkle
“Vivid and beautifully written . . . With extraordinary skill, knowledge, and insight, Jessica Shattuck transports us to Germany in the aftermath of World War II and into the lives of three powerfully drawn and memorable women. Compelling and very satisfying.”
“If you love historical fiction, this is your must-read book: It’s captivating, fascinating, and incredibly faithful to the events as they happened, and Jessica Shattuck reveals an entirely new side of what it’s like to be a woman in wartime.”
New York Times Book Review
“Moving . . . Shattuck’s achievement—beyond unfolding a plot that surprises and devastates—is in her subtle exploration of what a moral righteousness looks like in the aftermath of the war, when communities and lives must be rebuilt, together.”
People Magazine
“A masterful epic.”
Marie Claire
“A poignant, World War II page-turner.”
USA Today
“Offers a mesmerizing new look at the aftermath of the war . . . with insight and empathy, The Women in the Castle stands tall among the literature that reveals new truths about one of history’s most tragic eras.”
“Riveting and emotional, The Women in the Castle is a WWII story like you’ve never seen before.”
The Skimm
“For your friend who loves a good war drama. About a woman who plays castle with other war widows across Germany post WWII.”
New York Post
“A must-read!”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Well-researched . . . Shattuck manages to be both morally tough-minded and remarkably empathetic.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.50(d)


Meet the Author

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 Times, New Yorker, Glamour, Mother Jones, Wired, 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. 

Brief Biography

Cambridge, Massachusetts
Date of Birth:
April 2, 1972
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
B.A. Harvard College, 1994; M.F.A. in Writing, Columbia University, 2001

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The Women in the Castle: A Novel 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Very well written and full of Suspense and tears representing the Human nature.
Anonymous 7 months ago
To get an idea that this book is going to capture you until you finish it. Nightingale, and The Girl Who Came Home are perfect for setting this book up if you enjoy faction. This book will be waiting for me to read again and again
Anonymous 7 months ago
Loved this book, a must read, highly recommend
Anonymous 6 months ago
Deep and honest in provoking feelings thru out the book.
Anonymous 5 months ago
My first Shattuck novel and a good read about a very difficult/bad time in human history. I was impressed with the different takes of this time on 3 different women brought together by a woman trying to do the right and moral thing. I would definately recommend. Thanks to my good friend for recommending to me. I believe it is getting good press at this time. JDL - 5-27-17
Anonymous 11 hours ago
I thought it was well written. I thought the characters were well developed and gave different perspectives of the people who lived in Germany during World War II. Well done
Anonymous 8 months ago
Deb-Krenzer 10 months ago
Oh what a touching story. I felt so much for these women. This was such a touching story. One woman had an idea of what her of what her husband was doing but she she kept it in the back of her mind. She said "no way, this was not happening in my world". Another wife was so innocent and young, that she had no idea that she had no idea that this was even going on. The final wife was aware, shocked, and appalled and for that reason she took her two boys and left. Such was the life that these three women were together after their husbands were gone, either through death or because they left them. Their stories are sorted and the lady of the castle (Marianne) took them in. Either through the knowing of their husband such as the case of Benita, the wife of her childhood friend, Martin. And Ania, the wife of another resistor who Marianne does not recall the name but still admits her to the castle. These three ladies bond and become friends while the war goes on around them. Together they raise their children and become a family as such. The bond that they form lasts a lifetime for all of them and the book is the story of these three women. While they are together and their lives before they come together. It is a very touching and moving story that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was entertaining, moving, mesmerizing, haunting, chilling and I really grew to like these characters immensely. Huge thanks to Bonnier Zaffre for approving my request and to Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest unbiased review.
Buecherwurm161 10 months ago
A Must Read. I entered the contest to win this book, though its not the usual books I like to read, and I was lucky enough to have won a copy. Having grown up in Germany and being required to watch the movies in school about the concentrations camps, which left a horrifying impression on me, I typically avoided books of this nature, but somehow I was drawn to this book. It brought back many memories of stories my parents told me and I had a really hard time putting it down, I connected with the characters and could feel their struggles and burden. I know this book will stay with me for a long time and I feel it is also relevant for today, because we are heading into a new and scary future and I hope that history will not repeat itself.
remjasta 7 months ago
Is it translated into Lithuanian language? Sincerely, Remjasta http://www.remjasta.lt
grandmareads102 7 months ago
Jessica Shattuck offers the reader a riveting prospective on how three women from different walks of life and their children deal with the years before and after World War ll. Germany is the primary setting where each unique story is revealed. Marianne Von Lingenfels is a well born, confident woman. Her husband worked in the Foreign Office. He along with like minded individuals plotted to assassinate Hitler. When it failed, they paid with their lives. Connie Fledermann was her close friend and one of the conspirators. He married Benita, a dreamer who wanted to escape her rural existence. She desired a life of beauty and luxury, but that was taken away. Marianne had promised Connie to protect his wife and child. She rescued her and brought her to the castle. The third woman is Ania. She is a stoic who joined the Nazi Party. She and her husband ran a youth lager. She believed in Hitler's rhetoric until the party's inhumanity was inescapable. She takes her boys and flees. Marianne takes her in. At the Castle their lives intertwine. They support each other as they move forward and build a new future out of destruction. The characters are multilayered and compelling. The story pulled me in and held my attention. The author took her time revealing each of their stories. It increased the emotional impact. The Women in the Castle is beautifully told and allowed me to see how our position in society influences how we act and what we believe in. I won a copy of this book which I voluntarily read. My comments are my honest opinions.
Sandy5 8 months ago
4.5 stars She was aggressive, a doer, a responsible person who felt committed to the task that she accepted years ago, her name was Marianne. I felt that she would have done more but the year was 1938 and as the party was in full swing, the husbands plotting secretly against the government behind closed doors, Marianne finds them and she anxiously wants to do her part. She waits, finally a part is given to her, Marianne has a responsibility, someplace where she can help. It’s now time for Marianne to fulfill her promise, she must find the women and children of these men, the resistors, who were plotting against the government and care for them. It is not an easy task and I was surprised that Marianne doesn’t find very many of these individuals. Locating Benita and Anita, she brings them back to the castle. These women bring with them such diverse and captivating stories that by the time the novel is finished, I am glad that Marianne only found these two women as I enjoyed what relationship these three shared. I had to laugh at Anita many times as I thought that she had her head in the clouds or perhaps she just didn’t want to face reality. Then there was Benita, this girl had my emotions all over the place. I loved her one minute and then I was screaming at her a couple chapters later. Sometimes she was fun and loving and other times, she got so serious. Marianne took her responsibilities seriously and she was a strong character. I thought of her like a shepherd keeping everyone and everything together. I loved the setting of this novel, the uninhabitable castle. The large cold rooms giving way to the large kitchen, where finally some heat was felt. As the heat made its way to the room above, the women all gathered upstairs in that one room to rest. From outside, you could see how isolated this landmark was, but again, it also was a special place to be in. I enjoyed reading about these women and their lives, it wasn’t just about the war, it was much more. I received a copy of this novel from a Goodreads First Reads Giveaway. Thank you Goodreads and William Morrow.
Heart2Heart 10 months ago
Well I was disappointed. Based on the rear cover's premise of what the novel, The Women in the Castle was promised to deliver and also based on the accolades from others on this novel I wanted so much more than it delivered. The first half of the novel was great, highlighting the stories of Marianne Von Lingenfels and Benita Fledermann, the wife of a childhood friend she promises to look after if anything should happen to her husband Connie. The stage is just before World War II when a group of resistors to Hitler's plan to take over Germany and eliminate those who stand against him. Her husband along with most of her friends have all been hanged for their crimes against Hitler and now she has lived up to her vow to protect their wives, fellow resistors like herself along with their children. The novel showcases both of the women's lives in a toggling between chapters of their past and present lives while living in a Bavarian castle of her husbands ancestors even though it doesn't have much of the creature comforts it once did. They eventually take on another woman Ania and her two sons who are now refugees with no place to go. They all band together to try and make it to their futures despite the odds against them in a makeshift family of sorts. It is an interesting perspective on what life would have been life trying to survive against the odds in the midst of a world war and one I had anticipated I would have enjoyed until midway through the book where it seems to take on a darker worldly side of not only language but also subject matter you didn't experience until this far into the novel. For me, it wasn't needed to get into the particulars of such events and sexual encounters because up to this point the novel was moving along and conveying such events were possible without describing them and adding profanity to both the characters dialogue, which in my opinion, cheapened the story line even if such things were probably said in real life. I received The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck compliments of William Morrow, a division of Harper Collins Publishers. It is for this very reason that reviews are needed. It prevents the reader from having to endure things they don't wish to read in novels while hoping for an enjoyable historical novel. That being said, most people will rave over the novel as other reviews will undoubtedly praise it for the historical details of what women might have had to endure when their husbands were killed for their beliefs against Hitler and even those who didn't know if their husbands were alive when they were shipped off to imprisonment camps of the SS Nazi's. I give this novel a 3 out of 5 stars.
FrancescaFB 10 months ago
I was given an advanced courtesy copy of THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE for review. I wish to thank Katherine Turro at William Morrow for giving me the opportunity to read one of the most heartbreaking novels I have read in the recent past. This novel was written as historical fiction. Its specific characters may be fictitious, but we can only imagine by her eloquent but candid verse how many people who lived through the horror of WWII Germany are actually represented. We feel their pain, their anguish, and their courage for survival. It draws readers using effortless plotting from the first page of this well-crafted novel. It is a heartbreaking, beautiful story of unconditional love, hope, faith, forgiveness, deception, loss, and resiliency. Family and friends support us through everything that life presents us, and provides us with the inner strength to move forward throughout our lives. It is a brilliantly written tale by Jessica Shattuck, who is a truly gifted writer. With simple, easy symphonic prose, it keeps you enthralled throughout the story, wanting more and more till the very end. I adore her writing style.
bookchickdi 10 months ago
Two of the biggest publishing sensations of the past few years are Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale and the Pulitzer Prize-winning All The Light You Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Both dealt with people trapped by the horrors of WWII in France and Germany. Jessica Shattuck's new novel, The Women In The Castle, tackles that same era and will definitely appeal to readers who were so moved by those two books. The story opens in November of 1938 at Burg Lingenfels, a castle in Bavaria, where the Countess' annual harvest party is about to begin. We meet Marianne von Lingelfels, the Countess' niece-in-law, who will act as hostess to the party. She is married to Albrecht von Lingelfels who fears that the Nazi regime and Adolf Hitler have become too powerful. Albrecht is disgusted by the actions of Hitler, and actively participates in the resistance movement along with others, including Connie Fledermann, a man who is always the charming life-of-the-party and Marianne's dear friend. Connie is married to the beautiful, young Benita, and if Marianne admits it, she is a little jealous. The action moves back and forth in time, and a few years later we find Marianne and her young children living in the castle, a shadow of its former grand self. Marianne has promised Connie that she take care of Benita and their young son, and along the way also picks up Ania, a refugee with her three children. The three women and their children band together to survive the horrors and deprevations of war. We learn where Benita and Ania were before they came to Burg Lingenfels, and what they had to do to survive. We see the horrors of war through their eyes, and some of the scenes are so jarring, such as the one of Ania and her friend seeing what they believe to be sacks of food piled high on open air wagons. As it gets closer they realize that the sacks are actually people. There are more than a few heartbreaking scenes in this searing novel. The story moves along, following the war's end and what happens to those who survive. Some do their best to move on, forget the past, while others are haunted too much. Marianne does her best to live up to her high principles, even if that hurts those she loves, while others do whatever it takes to survive. Which way is right? That is the big question to be answered. The women face many moral dilemmas, and the reader is left to wonder what she may have done in their situations. Shattuck does an admirable job of putting the reader in their shoes, making us identify with these women, creating empathy. The Women In The Castle is a haunting story, one that you cannot rush through, but must read and contemplate. These characters' stories will stay with you for a very long time. Fans of Chris Bohjalian's The Sandcastle Girls and David Gillam's City of Women should put this one on your TBR list as well.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Above book is good but, The Perfect Author is my favourite book. Only initial 3 chapters are there.. Wont take much time to read. https://www.theperfectauthor.in/ Really breath holding... Waiting for the next release !
Anonymous 6 months ago