City of Women by David Gillham
- Method of Obtaining: I obtained my copy via LibraryThing.
- Published by: Putnam
- Release Date: 8/7/2012
Whom do you trust, whom do you love, and who can be saved?
It is 1943—the height of the Second World War—and Berlin has essentially become a city of women.
Sigrid Schröder is, for all intents and purposes, the model German soldier’s wife: She goes to work every day, does as much with her rations as she can, and dutifully cares for her meddling mother-in-law, all the while ignoring the horrific immoralities of the regime. But behind this façade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman who dreams of her former lover, now lost in the chaos of the war. Her lover is a Jew.
But Sigrid is not the only one with secrets.
A high ranking SS officer and his family move down the hall and Sigrid finds herself pulled into their orbit. A young woman doing her duty-year is out of excuses before Sigrid can even ask her any questions. And then there’s the blind man selling pencils on the corner, whose eyes Sigrid can feel following her from behind the darkness of his goggles.
Soon Sigrid is embroiled in a world she knew nothing about, and as her eyes open to the reality around her, the carefully constructed fortress of solitude she has built over the years begins to collapse. She must choose to act on what is right and what is wrong, and what falls somewhere in the shadows between the two.
- The cover caught my eye.
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The City of Women by David Gillham follows the journey of Sigrid, a young, German woman whose husband is on the front line during WWII – fighting for Germany. The story this book addresses is not the story that tends to be in the forefront when picking up a book about WWII. Rather, the story here is the other side, how the German women lived while their husbands were away, how they adapted to being the “model Aryan wives,” how they handled subjects like infidelity, infertility, injustice, and how they fought back (passively and aggressively).
City of Women is remarkably well-written and well-paced. I always felt as if I needed to read just a few more pages because the story’s unfolding was so exquisitely painful. However, that said – there were times that I felt a little put off. Sigrid is an incredibly sexual woman and those appetites were described in depth throughout the course of the book. What this did to me was make me wonder what exactly was behind the story – was it that Sigrid got involved in illegal activities because her moral conscience begged her to, or was it because her sexual appetite drove her to do so?
And there’s where the book struggles for me. The description of City of Women talks about Sigrid having a Jewish lover, and I understand that is the whole catalyst for it all – but for a woman who will stop at nothing apparently to do the “right” thing, Sigrid’s version of abuse of her body is completely at odds with what Ericha does, for example.
It’s the complexity of that struggle and the differences between those women that will have me thinking about the story here in the days to come. The biggest question this book poses to the reader (and fails to give the answer to – but I believe that’s intended) is: Just what will you do to save the lives of those who are being treated unjustly? What will remain sacred to you? Your vows, your body, your mind, your soul?
This would be a very interesting book club read, a discussion to go over those very questions could lead to some enlightening and thought-provoking ideas.
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