Thursday, September 13, 2012

Julie's Review: City of Women

Summary: 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. In this page-turning novel, David Gillham explores what happens to ordinary people thrust into extraordinary times, and how the choices they make can be the difference between life and death.

Review: City of Women is a complex, riveting novel that focuses on the lives of women in Berlin during World War II. The sacrifices they make, the decisions that are up to them now that the men are fighting, the emotional and physical toll this takes on them.

When we are first introduced to Sigrid when she is headed out to the cinema to live with her memories of her lover. Sigrid isn't an easy women to like in the beginning. It wasn't the fact that she was married and having an affair it was the fact that she was so closed off about it and what was happening around her. I understand her willingness to shut off the world when you don't want to realize the horrors that are going on around you, but she was emotionally closed off as well.

When the story really takes a turn for interesting is when Sigrid gets involved with a young woman, Ericha's, mission. Ericha gives Sigrid all kinds of ways not to get involved and by the time she might have changed her mind, it's too late. This seems to give Sigrid's life purpose. She starts to take more risk in her life and starts to evolve into a different person.

What I liked about this book was how things and people are not always as they seem. Perceptions of people can be a #*$&% and come back to haunt you. Mr. Gillham has a wonderful way of slowly unraveling the story until he hits you over the head with several twists at the very end. In some way, they are something that the reader should have anticipated and yet, I'm so glad that I didn't.

I will say that I'm not a prude but I was a bit taken aback at first about the amount of sex in the novel. I realize why its there and it is no way gratuitous but keeps the story moving. It also shows the desperation of women during this time.

What I liked most about this novel was the unlikely friendships between the women. Sigrid and Ericha. Sigrid and Carin. It is in the worst of times when we like to think we find the best of ourselves.

If you are a World War II buff or just enjoy novels set in that era, then City of Women by David R. Gillham is a must read.

Final Take: 4.25/5

Thanks to the publisher, Putnam Books, for sending me an ARC of this fine novel.



Sell House September 13, 2012 at 11:16 AM  

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