I’m not at all attracted to World War Two books so it’s sort of strange that I keep finding myself reading – and enjoying – them.
Last year I tackled Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See and Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Both a little overrated perhaps, but nonetheless fine books that brought something new to this most well-worn of literary roads – writing styles and unique perspectives that elevated them.
Jessica Shattuck’s new novel does something similar and is, in my estimation at least, the superior of the three books.
It too focuses not on the giants of history or even the men who fought on the frontlines but on those stuck on the powerless periphery. Whereas Light and Thief focused largely on children, Women focuses on – yes, you guessed it – the women. Three women to be precise: Marianne, Benita and Ania, the widows of German resistance fighters killed for trying to assassinate Hitler.
After the way they come together in the ruins of a castle, Burg Lingenfels, to build new lives together. But each of them is scarred and each of them has secrets; the Manichean moral clarity of the war – good versus evil – has given way to a more fraught and complex peace, as everyone in Germany seeks to come to terms with what they did – or did not do – during the conflict.
Finely written and thoughtful.