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One move to America, one surprise pregnancy and a lot of fun later.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

City of Women by David R. Gillham

City of Women

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. 

A book group choice that I was quite excited to read.  I have read plenty of books about the Second World War but they have always been from a male perspective.  This book is about the women left behind in Berlin while the males are away fighting for The Fuhrer.

It started off really well and I could not put it down.  The writing style flowed really well and it had just the correct amount of jumping between timelines to improve the story without leaving you confused.  The characters were interesting and just the right amount were introduced to keep your attention without confusing you with too many, expecially with German names that could have been difficult to follow.

After reading about a third of the novel, I did anticipate that the story would go in a certain direction, so I was pleasantly surprised to find it moving a completely different way, which changed the whole feel of the book.

It is difficult to read (and to write, I guess) about the crimes that were committed in the name of war at that time but the author got the balance right for me.  There was just enough detail to let you feel what was happening but he also managed to get across the difficulty the women of Berlin had to do anything about it, even if they wanted to.  The natural urge to survive and protect yourself while ignoring what is going on around you must have been a hard decision for a lot of people to make.  The author made it all believable for me.

I have dropped one star as I thought the last third of the book got slightly frantic and the plot a bit too complicated and, slightly, unbelievable.  It became a struggle to keep up with who was who and for whom each person was actually working.  I still am not sure who was actually double crossing the rest at the end and whether Sigrid or Ericha was actually the leader.  This did not spoil the book as a whole but, I just felt, it could have been handled slightly better and I would then have rushed to give it 5 out of 5.

An interesting and enjoyable read and one which will make for a great discussion.  4 out of 5.

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