2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
an eye-opening page turner,
This review is from: City of Women (Paperback)
City of Women is Gilhams debut novel and for a first time out this is a really interesting
subject to take on, the effects of world war two on the German citizens and in particular
the women who are not on the frontline, but are in many ways in far more challenging situations. Set in Berlin 1943,the women are having to cope with rationing, nightly bombing by the RAF on the city, daily doses of propaganda from the Nazi regime, and the crippling lack of basic trust in society as neighbours, friends, work colleagues and even relatives resort to spying on each other, reporting to the Gestapo about even minor infringements.
Its a tricky place to live, and then it gets much worse for the lead character Sigrid,(whose
husband is a soldier on the russian front), when she gets involved at first unwittingly with
helping fellow Germans hide Jews who are still living in the city.
At the same time, Sigrid begins an affair - (we understand her marriage is rather dull)
with a Jew, and later gets intimate with a German officer who has moved into her apartment
building. There are some pretty racy scenes, and these are the parts of the book which will likely put it out of contention for any major prizes, and you could debate whether some of these scenes which can be quite animalistic and brutal were really necessary. This is when it
borders on being trashy. You'll note that the cinema which is a place frequently in the story sees more action on its seats than it ever does on the screen! However its redeemed I feel by some scintillating diaglogue between Sigrid and her lovers where things are startlingly revealed with such candour, that I almost felt part of the scene itself.
It brings up questions about how much the German citizens really believed the things the Nazi
party were telling them, and how that belief left them shocked when they found they were not
It also enlightens those who didn't already know, to the use of Jews by the Gestapo to flush
out and catch other Jews who were still living in the city, hidden. A sadly true fact but
fleshed out here to reveal why someone might do that. Self preservation has become a by word
for everybody, Jew and non-Jew alike, as society is stripped of its moral core.
There is clearly alot of historical research gone on behind this book, though its not in any
way a history lesson. And it doesn't have an agenda. There is no redemption here for any
of the characters, no-one even those who help the vulnerable are saintly, all have been
corrupted by the regimes hold on society.
Its a great read, an eye opening page turner. Some of the prose could be better perhaps, in the hands of a more experienced novellist with a little more polish, it could have been a modern classic.
What is really great is that its a story that focuses on the women during this time. So many things we read/see like films etc are based on the activities of men. Here the key roles
are all women and that is so often ignored or thought not important. This redresses that ridiculous imbalance in war time stories.
I really hope someone has bought the rights to this book, because it would make a brilliant two part adaption for TV with the female leads and their very uncompromising actions
both in political & espionage activity and their emotional & sex lives.