Wednesday, February 28, 2018

"The Missing Pieces" in THE WOMEN IN THE CASTLE by Jessica Shattuck

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CRC Blog Analysis on
The Women In The Castle
by Jessica Shattuck
“The Missing Pieces”
    Jessica Shattuck’s The Women In the Castle was published in hardcover on March 28, 2017 and in paperback on January 2, 2018 by William Morrow First Edition and William Morrow Paperbacks.
The story begins in the castle called Burg Lingenfels in Bavaria, Germany on November 9, 1938.  Marianne von Lingenfels is in her husband’s great-aunt’s castle preparing for a great party – a party she wished had been canceled due to the rain – but her husband Albrecht Lingenfels insists the party must go on. Above Left:  Bavaria's most famous castle Neuschwanstein.  
       And the party does continue and the upper crust of society show up, dance to the music of the day, enjoy the treasure trove of food, drink the best liquor as they wait in line to shake the famous Countess’s hand.  Above Right:  Vintage postcard of Bavaria in 1938.    
Even among the festivities there is a sense of apprehension – all have heard the news that 17-year-old Polish-German Jew Herschel Feibel Grunszpan shot German Diplomat, Nazi member, and Hitler supporter Ernest vom Rath two days before on November 7, 1938.  Left:  Grunszpan moments after his arrest on November 7, 1938
       Even still Marianne pushes the bad thoughts away for her to focus on the party only to realize that her husband Albrecht is nowhere to be seen.  She immediately goes to the library where she finds her husband in a special meeting with Martin Constantine Feidermann, and other important men; one of whom she has never met before – Pietre Grabarek, who raced from Munich to the castle to deliver two fold news:  Ernst von Rath has died and Hitler is planning a riot – what we now term the The Night of Broken Glass. (Above Right:  von Rath in 1934)
Marianne stands still, becoming a member of the group of men, who now speak of the importance of assassinating Adolf Hitler for the sake of all of Germany, but Albrecht is hesitant. (Above Left Synagogue destroyed in the Night of Broken Glass)
       “I agree with the principle.”  Albrecht spoke slowly into the swell of support.  “But active collusion against our government- this government – is a dangerous thing. And we have wives and families to consider.  I’m not suggesting we should not only that we think carefully –“
       “Your wives and families will support you,”  Marianne interrupted, surprising herself and the rest of the room.  It came out like a rebuke.  Albrecht was always so measured, slow, and thoughtful.  A plodding tortoise to Connie’s leaping stage.
       “All of them",” von Strallen asked wryly.
       “All of them,” Marianne repeated.  von Strallen was a chauvinist.  He told his silly wife, Missy, nothing and took her nowhere.  Poor Missy, treated like a dumb fattened cow.
       “And bear the risk?”  Albrecht asked gently.
       “And bear the risk” Marianne repeated.
       “All right,” Connie said, turning his intense gaze upon her.  “Then you will see to it that they are all right.  You are appointed the commander of wives and children.”

       Marianne takes her role as commander of the wives of children seriously – especially when the husbands are caught in a failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944, and as a result, the three men (Martin Constantine Fiedermann, Pietre Grabarek, Albrecht von Lingenfels) were hanged. 

       After the war Marianne keeps her promise of being the commander of the wives and their children.  In June of 1945 she finds Martin Constantine Fidermann’s wife Benita and their son Martin and brings them back to the castle to reside with her and her three children Fritz, Katarina and Elizabeth.  In August of 1945 Marianne finds Pietre Grabarek’s wife Ania and their two sons Anselm and Wolfgang.
Together these three widows, of Nazi resistors and their children maintain their own nucleus type of family in the castle.  The castle is much different in 1945 than it was in November of 1938.  Instead of fancy, expensive and tasty food there are only potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, boiled eggs for food; and no more lavishly furnished rooms – the main room is the kitchen consisting of the big oven that keeps them warm from the harsh winters.
       These women and their children reside in the castle revealing their own individual characters, so different from one another.  Through this revealing deceptions are discovered, hopes of redemption are denied, true love is shattered, and innocence is forever lost.  And yet each woman is an epitome of individuality, compassion and redemption within herself.  

The chapters take place in January of 1923; the years 1934 and 1935; March of 1938; November of 1938; the year 1943; January of 1945; April to May of 1945; August of 1945; December of 1945; May to October of 1950; December of 1950; July of 1991; and October of 1991.
The book is entertaining and well written but yet I was hoping for the castle Burg Lingenfels to have a more active role as character in the story.  Instead the three widows and their children only live in Burg Lingenfels Castle for six months from June of 1945 to December of 1945, which only covers the first of four sections in The Women In the Castle. The character Burg Lingenfels Castle leaves the pages of the book after December of 1945 and does not return until October of 1991.

There seems to be missing pieces in the hardcover edition – specifically concerning Ania Grabarek, which fortunately the author Jessica Shattuck recognizes and as a result has included the so called missing chapter, which takes place on February 13, 1945 in the paperback edition.   
       I also wanted to know more information about an act of violence that Benita Feiderman, German prisoner of war Franz Muller, and an unidentified Russian soldier are involved in.
Last but not least I wanted to know more about the tortured soul of Franz Muller, the German Soldier/ Nazi who did work at the castle.  While at the castle he was able to touch everyone’s lives (except perhaps that of Marianne) in a positive way. 

One of the most touching scenes from The Women in the Castle is when Martin, the son of Benita, and Anselm and Wolfgang, the sons of Ania, make a special trip to a POW camp where German prisoners of war are imprisoned where Franz Muller is imprisoned.  (Right:  German POW camp guarded by the Americans)
       “Here!”  Martin was the first to speak.  “We brought this for you.”  With frozen fingers he pushed his half candy bar and tin of cheese through the fence.
       “For me?”  Herr Muller asked, studying their faces.
       Martin nodded.
       “Do your mothers know you came here?”
       Martin shook his head.
       “Ah.”  Muller seemed to consider this.  “It was kind of you.”
       The boys stamped their feet against the cold.
       “Have you met anyone named Brandt?”  Wolfgang asked, and his words were slightly breathless as if he had pushed them out.
       Muller frowned.  “I don’t think so.  From where?”
       The Grabareks exchanged another glance.  “The Warthegau.”  Anselm answered this time. 
       Muller shook his head.
       “Your father?”  Martin asked, unable to stop himself.
       “No,” Wolfgang said his voice harsh.  “Our father is dead.”
       Who, then?  Martin wanted to ask, but didn’t.
       Muller regarded them in silence.  “Well, thank you,” he said finally.  “Take care of yourselves.  And your mothers.  And don’t come back here.”   
       The one term “the missing pieces” describes Women In The Castle perfectly because, as Jessica Shattuck stated on her web page video, (Right)  the characters in this book do not live in black and white but in the gray.  She further describes these characters as ordinary Germans – those who were aware of what was going on in Hitler’s Nazi Germany and said nothing.  All were still ordinary Germans, ordinary human beings.  Something humanity will always try to understand but that missing piece of our understanding will never be clearly explained.  
       And it is these missing pieces that makes us human and makes The Women in the Castle a book to savor and to treasure.

Jessica Shattuck Facebook Page

Jessica Shattuck Web Page

William Morrow Facebook Page

The Women In The Castle paperback on Amazon

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