By far, my favorite genre of books to read is World War II history, whether those books are non-fiction or fiction.
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I recently read Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini, about four women who join the German Resistance. Mildred Fish Harnack is an American who attends the University of Wisconsin and meets Arvid Harnack, whom she marries. Eventually, they settle down together in Germany. Mildred enjoys her job as a university professor until the Nazis begin their ascent to power and relegate women to their appropriate roles–church, children, and kitchen. Mildred is released from her job, as are most women at the universities.
Greta, who is German and had also studied at the University of Wisconsin, has a complicated relationship with her eventual husband. She finds work translating documents and finds her place in theater. Multiple times, she leaves Germany as the Nazis begin to gain power, but in the end, she decides to return to her homeland to help those who are still there.
Sara is a German Jew who has a brother who is a journalist as well as a sister who is married to an Aryan. Her brother-in-law is smart enough to see that he won’t be able to protect his family for long, so he moves them to Geneva well before they’re in danger. He urges the rest of his wife’s family to move, but they refuse.
Martha is the American ambassador’s daughter. She lives in Germany with her family from 1933 to 1937. When she first arrives, she is enamored of all things Nazi, though her father, mother and brother are much more concerned. Martha is an attractive socialite who romances Nazis and Russians, but by the end of her time in Germany, her opinion of Nazis has changed dramatically.
The book alternates between these four women, each woman getting her own chapter before cycling through them again. In the beginning, I felt like the author was showing more than telling, but I soon got past that (or it stopped), and then I was interested in the women’s stories.
Anytime I read a book like this, I ask myself if I would have had the courage to do what these resistance women did, and the answer, unfortunately, is a resounding no. To risk their lives every day with their activities, to initially not see any results from their efforts, must have been terrifying and frustrating.
I learned a great deal of German history through reading this book, and halfway through I took to Google and discovered that even though this is labeled fiction, it’s fictionalized based on true events. All of these women existed and took enormous risks.
I give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars on the Mom’s Plans’ scale.