City of Women

City of WomenBerlin, 1943.  You are seated in a darkened movie theater when a strange young woman sits next to you and asks you to tell the Gestapo (who are looking for her) that she has come in with you.  What do you do?  1) Oblige and lie to the Secret State police. 2) Turn the woman in. 3) Leave the theater without acknowledging her.  Whatever you choose to do will have an outcome that will change everything—if not in your world, then someone else’s.  Sigrid Schröder has been faced with just this situation and she is supposed to be a German soldier’s wife in good standing.  She is later asked to help hide Jews from being sent to the concentration camps.  Sigrid’s decision is understandable when we find out that she has a Jewish lover.
I can say that I have now read quite a few Holocaust books, but never have I approached the topic from the other side (i.e. a focus on those who tried to help runaways).  The novel has a strong tone of Noir fiction and it never gets boring.  There totally is a feeling of mistrust from almost everyone Sigrid meets and you are left guessing who is on who’s side, until the conclusion of the book.
She seems to be at war with so many people, in the midst of a World War.  While her husband is away providing service to his country, Sigrid must live alongside her patriotic mother-in-law, who is more than happy to reveal any traitor for suspicious acts.  Danger is lurking in every corner—from the bombs above, from the Nazis, from “catchers” and from spies.
Things get heated when Sigrid believes that she is helping to hide her lover’s wife and children.  There is an inner war within herself when she debates whether she should hide them or expose them.  Till the very end, you are drawn into a realm with twists and turns—as Sigrid tries to survive in her house, her workplace, the bomb shelter and a world where friends can be foes or vice versa.
I loved this novel.  Gillham first started out as a screen writer and it shows when you read the story.  There is a lot of description and attention to detail, as well as getting a visual perception of everything the characters are doing (you can imagine it being a movie).  Did you like it as much as I did?

If you are a member of the library, we have this title currently in Hard copy (F G4792c) only.  This may or may not change in the future.  Please check the catalog frequently for an update of formats.

To read reviews on City of Women, please click on the links below.
From USA Today:
http://books.usatoday.com/book/realism-tenderness-elevate-%E2%80%98city-of-women/r817549

From Book Reporter:
http://www.bookreporter.com/reviews/city-of-women

For information on David R. Gillham, click below:
http://davidrgillham.com/biography/

Discussion Questions
The following are some questions to get you thinking after reading the novel.

-Did you feel sympathy for Carin Kessler, Frau Junger’s half sister, or for Wolfram? Why or why not?
-How important is amorous passion in the novel?  Is that the driving force that motivates Sigrid?  Is it emblematic of something else?

To get the rest of the questions, please visit the author’s website below:
http://davidrgillham.com/book-clubs/reading-group-discussion-guide/

Interesting Tidbit
There are still some new and different things that I learn from every Holocaust novel and in this one it was the knowledge of “catchers” (Jewish informers hired from the Gestapo to catch other Jews).  I was totally shocked by this, yet after finding out, I contemplated to myself: what other option did some have?  What would you have done?  Apparently, there was a well-known catcher named Stella Goldschlag.  To find out more about her, please click on the following link: http://www.internationalresearchcenter.org/en/holocaust-forgotten-or-revisited/stella-one-woman-s-true-tale-of-evil-betrayal-and-survival-in-hitler-s-germany

This book reminded me of …
Although The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer certainly came to mind, it narrates the hardships of three Jewish brothers born in Hungary and their quest to get a proper education during the beginnings of WWII.  In other words, it shows the side of the Holocaust that I am more familiar with.  When Sigrid hides with fellow neighbors in the bomb shelter, it reminds me of a scene in Sarah Blake’s The Postmistress.  The relationship Sigrid has with her mother-in-law is very reminiscent of another situation in Russian Winter by Daphne Kalotay.  Here too, there is a bitter feeling between a young woman and the mother of her husband, where they are also forced to share a roof and live in dangerous times.  One more thing I wanted to mention was that Gillham’s book has the same feel as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards.  Not the violence aspect, but the movie theater subplot and how people are trying to get back at the Nazis, without them knowing.

Favorite quote from book:
“An odor of human dank deepens.  A familiar bouquet by now.  It is the smell of all that is unwashed, stale, and solidified.  It is the smell that has replaced the brisk scent of the city’s famous air.  The ersatz perfume of Berlin, distilled from all that is chemically treated and synthetically processed.  Of cigarettes manufactured from crushed acorns, of fifty-gram cakes of grit-filled soap that clean nothing.  Of rust and clotted plumbing.  Damp wool, sour milk, and decay.  The odor of the home front.” (p. 34)

Most twisted moment in the story:
When Sigrid finds out a shocking secret about her lover, Egon. (p. 318-319)

Next month’s title:
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

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