The question of what you would do during wartime is often posed, but never answered in such a strikingly factual, yet imaginative way as it is in “The City Of Women”. The truth of the situations used as a platform for the gritty story made the characters appear real. The plot was factually accurate without being dull, finally picking up near the 100 page mark, a little too far into the novel for my taste. But the more I read, the more I liked the book. It’s hard to describe everything about this novel other than to say it was a mixture of several plot lines that all merge into a story of how individuals react in wartime. The author brilliantly interposed the plight of Jews and Germans both turning on each other, turning on their own race, and of course, turning on the Nazis.
Through Sigrid, the author examines whether she can be a good person and also be what the Germans consider to be a good fräulein. I was surprised that the main character was a German woman who is suddenly thrust into the dangerous position of helping Jews hiding from the Germans. What struck me the most was how the authored used so many factual details to create a complete backdrop for each character. He managed to describe not just the underground system used to hide and transport Jews out of occupied cities, but also the inner workings of the German army. The use of propaganda against the German people was overwhelming. I had never thought too much about the German people’s interpretation of these obviously false statements, or on the impact of nightly bombings in Germany on those left in the city. Sigrid provides the perspective not only of the terror women feel as they leave home each night to sleep in the bomb shelters, but how they constantly grapple with remaining faithful to their husbands amidst so much turmoil.
The characters’ actions were thoughtful, which was clear from the plot and conversations. Each chapter revealed that nothing was as it seemed, and the constant twists were unexpected. Everyone is hiding a secret, the question is how big? The ending was a little quick but the story had a lasting impact and was the definition of thought provoking. For WWII buffs, this novel is a must.