Although she creates an odd family of sorts, this is definitely not a story of plucky women banding together to fix up a chilly home. Their recoveries are burdened with unending guilt, and while they’re sharing the deprivations of the present, very often they’re keeping secrets about the traumas of the past, even from one another. 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.
...a mesmerizing new look at the aftermath of the war ... Survivors do what they must to carry on, but all three women are haunted by the choices they made during the war. Shattuck was inspired to write the book by her shame over her German heritage, and the wartime era’s links to contemporary political issues. Her book answers the question 'How do good people become Nazis?' 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.
Shattuck manages to be both morally tough-minded and remarkably empathetic toward all of her characters ... Shattuck is best in the second half of her book, as she turns her gaze on those immediate postwar years when lying in Germany was both survival tactic and way of life ... Shattuck’s effective, cross-cutting temporal shifts — from Kristallnacht in 1938 to the end of the war in 1945, forward to 1950 and then back to the 1920s and 1930s — underscores the ongoing, nightmarish yesterday that Germany continued to live, long after the war ended. As one character ruefully learns, one ultimately cannot narrate 'away evil while staring it in the face.'”
The narrative unfolds in a fluid way, with most of the action taking place in 1945, when the women struggle through the harrowing last days of the war, and 1950, when they adjust to new, postwar realities. 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.
The cumulative effect of these hopeful, outraged, misled, and guilty humans is stunning. In a narrative that bounces back and forth in time, Shattuck contrasts the nearly incomprehensible horrors that Germans committed (or half-knowingly ignored) with the impulses of grace and forgiveness ... The Women in the Castle pleads the case for humanity as both dreadful and beautiful. We can follow orders to march a young mother and two children into a forest and shoot them, but we can also give up our own lives in the pursuit of justice ... this incisive story, with insights both large and small, does the elegant work of exploring how three wounded women find answers.
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.
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.