Monday, August 6, 2012
Author: David R. Gillham
Genre: Fiction, Historical, 1940's Berlin
Publisher: Amy Einhorn/G.P. Putnam's Sons (Penguin)
Pub. Date: August 7, 2012
City of Women tells the story of the women left behind in the city of Berlin in 1943 when the majority of the men are off to join the war efforts. Sigrid Schroder lives with her meddling and critical mother-in-law while her husband, Kaspar, has gone off to war. But even before he left, Sigrid had been having an affair with a man who she now thinks about more than her husband. This is scandalous enough as it is, but her illicit lover also happens to be Jewish.
Sigrid is a good German citizen, though she isn't always quite sure what is true and not regarding Germany's place in the war. But then when she's at the cinema one day, her favorite place to spend time, she is thrown into a scandalous situation by the young girl who nannies the children downstairs from Sigrid. The mysterious antics of this young girl irritate and anger the fairly proper Sigrid but ultimately leads her to the biggest realizations she has about what is really happening in the world.
Sigrid later becomes faced with the decision to shelter Jews and others who need to hide. She's horrified at the thought of defying the rules as well as the missions of the city's men but also horrified at what she slowly realizes is happening to these people when they are found by the Gestapo... especially when it becomes personal and she believes she may be hiding the family of her secret lover.
I loved this book. The writing was beautiful and engaging and really created a sensuous atmosphere that I immersed myself in every time I opened the book. It was about community, friendships, betrayals, daily life and its sensualities, moral arguments from personal and political viewpoints, and danger. It demonstrated the strength and courage of some of these women but also the cattiness of many of the women. It's about women living in a really difficult time and place and having to make some very difficult decisions. City of Women is up there with one of the best of the year for me so far.