Friday, September 14, 2012

City of Women by David R. Gillham

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):  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.

And here's what I thought:  This was a beautifully written book, with a main character who at turns was both fascinating and frustrating.  The author does such a great job with the setting, and with Sigrid, that it's easy to get caught up in the story (at least, I found I got caught up in it).   

I've been reading some nonfiction books lately about World War II, and so maybe that's part of why I really liked this.  Reading a book where the main character is an average German woman in that time period is interesting --- it's like getting a window into what the average person there would have experienced.  I think a lot of us tend to think "World War II" and then associate that with "Nazis," or "Hitler," etc.   However, there were a lot of people who just had to try to go about their everyday business, and just get through --- and there were Germans who didn't agree with the Nazi Party's policies, and who tried to help Jews, and other people, who were in danger.    That whole conflict about whether to mind her own business or get involved with helping people is fascinating here --- that Sigrid has to make some difficult choices, and then decide if she will follow through on those decisions.

I think this would be a great book club choice, because I think it lends itself to a lot of good discussion, both about Sigrid, and being a woman in Germany at this time, as well as some discussion of what happened in Germany during World War II.

First lines:  The blind man taps his cane rhythmically.  Three taps, three taps, three taps to gain the attention of passing Berliners.  He is a cadaverous sentry with a shaved pate under an old soldier's cap, selling pencils from a canister strung about his neck.

I received this book from LibraryThing Early Reviewers -- thank you!


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