Wednesday, November 14, 2012

City of Women

by David R. Gillham, Amy Einhorn Books, August 2012        

...not an easy story to read but one that has stayed with me long after I finished it. 

One more WWII story, this one from a German point of view.  Set in Berlin in 1943, the story centers around Sigrid a “good” German woman living with her mother-in-law while her husband Kaspar serves at the Eastern Front.  Sigrid works as a typist in the patent office.  Berlin in 1943 is a city where women make up the majority of the population.  Sigrid retreats to the cinema to escape the despair of her life in Berlin.  She meets Egon a Jewish man in the movie theater and begins an affair with him.  She befriends a young girl living in her building, Ericha.  Ericha has been helping an underground group that has been smuggling Jews and others out of the country.  Sigrid also befriends a woman whose half brother is an SS officer.  The German propaganda machine broadcasts information about great German victories but the facts support just the opposite.  Conditions are difficult; food is in short supply, nightly trips to the bomb shelter the norm.  Sigrid slowly evolves from a fairly passive citizen of the Reich into a courageous woman as she becomes involved with the underground group. Her husband Kaspar returns wounded and adrift after a grueling combat experience and then looms over her complicated life. The suspense in the story builds as Sigrid plans the extraction of a small group of people and the SS becomes aware of her actions.

The author does a great job describing war time Berlin.  The suspicions that citizens have of one another are well described, the atmosphere of fear is palpable.  One of the themes here is the myriad of relationships that Sigrid has with women – her mother-in-law a supporter of the Nazi regime; Ericha the young rebel; her colleagues at work who are frightened of Sigrid’s developing radicalism, and the women in her building.  Each of these relationships is different and used to advance the plot nicely.

More than a war story though this is an examination of the personal courage that it takes to work against a totalitarian government when one slowly becomes aware of the evil that is taking place.  The awakening of conscience that Sigrid experiences is so well documented in this story I loved it.  I have always wondered why so few German citizens resisted Nazism.  This story lays out how difficult it was for people to take action and how extraordinary were those who did.  You are clearly left wondering how you would behave given the choices that Sigrid had.  Not an easy story to read but one that has stayed with me long after I finished it. 

I read a copy of this novel provided by the publisher.


Zibilee said...

I bought this one when Amazon had a sale on Kindle, and I was so thrilled to get it. It sounds wonderful, and I can't wait to try it for myself. You are right. It does sound like a heavily emotion laden book, but one that it would be easy to enjoy. Excellent review today, Kathy!

Unknown said...

Thank you Kathy, for such a very thoughtful and in-depth review of my book. I'm very grateful. All the best, David Gillham