NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Whom do you trust, whom do you love, and who can be saved? A gripping tale of Berlin in the Second World War, from the author of Annelies.
It is 1943—the height of the Second World War. With the men away at the front, Berlin has become a city of women.
On the surface, Sigrid Schröder is 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 of passion who dreams of her former Jewish lover, now lost in the chaos of the war. But Sigrid is not the only one with secrets—she soon finds herself caught between what is right and what is wrong, and what falls somewhere in the shadows between the two . . .
In this stunning debut about the battle between good and evil, Gillham puts a fresh spin on the horrors of WWII by focusing on civilian German women to reveal that, amid the many adherents of the party line there were a handful of unsung heroes. We first meet Sigrid Schr der in 1943. She is an unassuming stenographer stuck in a loveless marriage and living in Berlin with her sour, difficult mother-in-law. But her life is not as common as it seems, for she has a lover, a Jewish lover, and if that were not risky enough, Sigrid becomes entangled with a neighbor who is helping to shelter Jews. As the war progresses, and Sigrid's husband is sent to the Russian front, she's drawn deeper into a world where trust is a hard-won commodity. The line between what is "right" and "wrong" becomes harder to define as Sigrid, confronted with increasingly more horrifying realities, finds her resolve constantly tested. Gillham's transcendent prose ("Looking into her eyes is like staring thorough the windows of a bombed-out building"; "The words both murdered her and made her whole"), powerfully drawn characters, and the multilayered dilemmas make his first literary effort a powerful revelation.
A city of women, some of whom show incredible courage helping the 'submarines' - the hidden Berlin. Some do it for the best of reason, some fall into the role for the worst of reasons.
This is a hard story for a hard time, and the protagonist is not a sympathetic personality, but that just makes the story better. Read The City of Women for just those reasons.
City of Women
What a nail- biting, exciting, thought- provoking novel! I kept thinking what a great movie this would be. After this length of time from WWII, it's hard to imagine what it would feel like having neighbors and supposed friends turn you in to the Gastapo for making an off- hand remark about the regime or the Fuhrer. How would we feel watching an ethnic group being rounded up and transported to who knows where? This was a great read.
I am generally a slow reader but I was so engaged by this story that I read it in record time. It is definitely one of those stories that leaves you wanting more. I have always wondered, "What would I have done if I were living through WWII?" This book tells a tale of women that maybe I'd wish I could say would have been me. It makes you think and keeps you guessing. I look forward to reading his other novel.