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I read an excellent review for this book in a newspaper and without further research or reading other Audible reviews I bought the book. My mistake. Finally after hours of listening to wandering, detached and vague storytelling I was so frustrated that I resorted to reading the Audible reviews. Several less favorable reviewers hit the nail on the head with their writeups. I won't echo their concerns here as they said it perfectly. Suffice it to say, this story did not feel grounded in history, character development or reality.
Ghost-like characters remain flat shadows that simply fill the space. There is little background provided to explain behaviors and help the reader connect with the story being told. So much sex and so little historic fact grounded in the time sunk this book into the romance genre for me.
My biggest issue was that if you know history you know that Germany was involved in the battle of Stalingrad during this time period. The battle, arguably one of the bloodiest and most disastrous in military history, started in late August 1942 and continued to early February 1943--with some fighting continuing into March. The sixth army, the unit main character Sigrid's husband is fighting with on the eastern front, was destroyed in this battle. I think that it highly unlikely that letters home would either reach Berlin or would be so bland and talk about soup?? They were trapped in Stalingrad durning the winter of 1943 due to Russian flanking maneuvers and were cut off--Berlin attempting airdrops of supplies....really....talk of how the soup was not bad???
In reality, Berlin was probably in turmoil with massive troop movement as they stripped the western front and redeployed soldiers and artillery to join the flagging eastern front. There must have been great action going on in Berlin at the time. Our characters, however occasionally work part-time, constantly go to the movies and wander about bickering with neighbors and in-laws. Ugh--too unbelievable for me. Cannot recommend.
32 of 34 people found this review helpful
"City of Women" is just fine for what it is: a star crossed love story taking place in WWII Germany. Unfortunately, the story lacks many valuable details that would anchor the tale in this time period. Your satisfaction with the story will probably vary according to your expectations. Rereading the books description now, I see the fault lies in me. I will say that narrator Suzanne Bertish is excellent. Her German accent light and pleasant - her intonation catching the rhythms of German speech perfectly.
I bought "City of Women" out of curiosity about the experience of German wives and mothers caring for their families during WWII. Though brought up in a second generation German immigrant family, the war was never discussed. Nor was there any sort of permission to ask questions. No one told me not to, I just got the message loud and clear that WWII was off limits. And yet I've always wondered: what did the average German know about the government's activities? What did they do with what they did know? Did parents send their children off to safer homes in the countryside as did their London counterparts? How did the disappearance of a huge chunks of the population (German men into the army and Jewish everyone to other countries or concentration camps) affect life and morale? There has been much written about wartime Britain but very little about domestic life in wartime Berlin. Unfortunately, other than a cursory mention of ration books and a few trips to a bomb shelter, this novel could take place in almost any historical period where circumstances (pick one or more: war, family disapproval, ethnic hatred, class difference) amps up the drama between two lovers cheating on their spouses.
It begins fairly promisingly and with an air of mystery. Why is protagonist Sigrid Shroeder, married to a German soldier fighting on the Eastern Front, so restless and lonely? One would expect her to be anxious about her husband's welfare, afraid for her friends and neighbors after nightly bombing raids. We quickly learn much of her alienated sad behavior is actually Sigrid mooning about for her vanished married Jewish lover. See (in case you miss the metaphor) her German soldier husband is not only distant physically, but also emotionally, you guys. Sigrid is what my daughters would call a 'guy's girl' not a 'girl's girl.' She's so beautiful and never really connects with the "city of women" left to tend the home fires during the war. Most readers will quickly recognize this novel's supporting cast of characters: impossibly mean mother-in-law, suspicious landlady, foolishly brave sidekick; you can fill in the rest.
There are some acts of heroism and personal risk in the story. However, in previous reading (like the excellent Bonhoeffer biography I devoured earlier this year) I've learned that most actual acts of heroism during this time period seemed to be fueled by moral courage or a philosophical mandate that left the hero no alternative but to confront evil head on. Sigrid's motives are largely unexplored, therefore unconvincing. Is she helping Jews out of guilt for sleeping with a married Jewish man? Is she trying to get out of the house more? It's all sort of vague. Plus, from what we learn of her lover, there isn't much to inspire such slavish romantic obsession. Although she does describe a certain part of his anatomy as "noble" which could be just as easily "novel" since I'm assuming her previous lovers were uncircumcised.
Enough. Sorry. I will end by saying that my experience echoed the much more concise review of "City of Women" written by Katherine of Ontario. For a compelling look at life under German occupation, I recommend "Anne Frank Remembered" by Miep Gies. Ms. Gies was an employee of Jewish business owner Otto Frank who hid the Franks (and many others) in occupied Holland for over 2 years. She fed them by going to several different shops a day, never carrying more than one shopping bag at a time to avoid suspicion. I doubt she had a Jewish lover, but I found reading about her life so deeply inspiring, I didn't miss it at all.
15 of 17 people found this review helpful
I bought this on impulse without much research (I'm wary of debut novels usually)... and what a find it turned out to be. This had me glued to my seat throughout.
Beautifully narrated, it is a moving and compelling story of - mostly - women in Berlin during WWII. The story revolves mainly around women helping Jews escape capture by the Gestapo. The range of characters includes nazis, resistance heros and heroines, soldiers and ordinary women - and various mixtures thereof. It puts you face to face with moral complexity and ethical dilemmas. It's a moving love story and an even more moving story of an unlikely friendship. It is all shades of grey; no black and white, no right and wrong. Good guys behaving badly and bad guys behaving heroically. Fallible individuals facing extreme situations in different ways.
It's well written, psychologically insightful and atmospheric. I can't wait to see if David Gillham has further novels in the pipeline.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
David Gillham has burst forth into the ranks of Furst and Le Carre with this perfectly shaped gem of a novel. The story, the characters, the historical detail, and the energy of the story telling, propel you through this amazing book. I've never encountered a novel with such telling and powerful use of detail and such a stunning presentation of a moment in history. I loved it, and it's stayed with me for a long time after. Also the narrator was absolutely perfect! Incredible performance, amazing voices, beautifully read! Sigrid is a wonderful protagonist, and her story is very gripping and ultimately moving. A great sense of women and women's lives as well. Highest Recommendation!
2 of 2 people found this review helpful