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 . . .
Here are my thoughts:
From City of Women: "Nobility is nothing more than an invention of the living to eulogize the dead. The dead are not noble. They are simply decaying in their graves."
At the suggestion of a young author (who knows my penchant for historical facts based stories) I read City Of Women but I'll admit with mixed feelings. There is no denying however David R. Gillman's prose is worthy of notice. He has done his research and this first novel shows promise.
City of Women is a testimonial to the endurance of women on the German home front in it itself. There are some striking similarities betwixt their daily life and the women of Great Britain for i.e.. Neither were 'occupied lands' in 1943, both strives to keep moral up, suffers rationing and endure enemy bombings on a regular basis. Their men are fighting for their future, many of these women will never see their loved ones again and those who make it home are either physically or mentally (or both) maimed.
David R. Gillman's plotline highlights more the personal side of his characters than their political affiliation. Yet it is impossible to separate in my opinion. Germany was after all the aggressor in this conflict. There is a fine line between right and wrong in wartime and as such it is impossible for anyone to know their reactions when faced with life or death decisions.
I might add that in retrospect the extensive documentation of WW2 of the German home front as well as the battlefields is bound to influence readers opinion yet Sigrid's character is so realistic it is hard to dismiss her just because she happens to be on the enemy's side.
David R. Gillman has reached out across time to describe her emotions, first her apathy followed by the adrenaline rushes when confronted with the other side of the coin...War is after all war but the atrocities committed in the name of the Fatherland weigh heavily on her conscience until one day she is faced with a choice. Once committed there is no turning back.
The men she loves, Kaspar her soldiering husband, Wolfram the Mischlinge officer and Egon the Jew are part of her and therefore cannot be ignored. With each of these characters an unmitigated side of 1943 Berlin reveals itself leaving you the reader little choice but to see your emotions involved at some level.
As a reviewer I try to be fair taking always in consideration the extent of a writer's research and the time and efforts taken in writing a novel. I also try to give the opportunity to the 'other side' to explain (if such can be accomplished in view of the documented horrors perpetrated!)
That's said I have an easier time reading about children involved in such conflicts (i.e. in the Book Thief) than adults, and this novel demanded I see a side I choose not to dwell upon.
In the end you see, I sat here cheering as the author describes the R.A.F proneness for bombing on clear nights. Any emotions involved only the safety of the young pilots who fought bravely to defend our freedom from the manacles of a mad man and avenge his victims whomever they might be (Germans or others).
4 Stars (for reasons stated above and those below)
Note to Readers: For mature readers only due to thematic contents including offensive language.
Meet the Author:
From the author's website:
“My connection to history has always been palpable, especially to certain times and places. When I write about a place like Berlin in the 1940′s, I feel like I am walking around its streets. I feel at home there, at least in my head. "
Note to Readers: This was a library loan and reflects ONLY my opinion!