June 28, 2019
Genre/Categories/Setting: Historical Fiction, Pre WW11, WW11, Resistance, Jewish, Germany
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Mildred Fish, an American College graduate, meets the love of her life, Arvid Harnack. After they fall in love, they marry and make their home in Arvid’s homeland of Germany. Mildred and Arvid thrive there, forming new friendships, and enjoying the intellectual and artistic offerings of 1930s Berlin. As Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party become more popular and powerful, Mildred and Arvid and their friends are compelled to resist. For years, Mildred and Arvid and their cohorts risk their lives to gather intelligence to bring down the Third Reich from within. Sadly, their sincere efforts don’t result in the help they desired or envisioned. This is a story of everyday people who, while they should be enjoying their carefree youth, give their best efforts to fighting evil and saving their country.
Jennifer Chiaverini puts history back into historical fiction!
Pacing: Most of Resistance Women is focused on prewar Germany. Many WW11 books drop the reader right into the middle of the war action and atrocities. In contrast, Jennifer Chiaverini devotes approximately 60% of the story tracing the fascinating buildup to WW11. For the most part, this is a quiet story that focuses on the lives of everyday, patriotic, sincere, and likable people and the difficult circumstances in which they find themselves. Although Resistance Women is not a page-turner, the suffering, quiet desperation, and stealthy efforts of the characters are engaging. As the conspirators continue to live their lives as best they can, they quietly find others who share their concern and are also willing to take risks. These risks do not produce many rewards, and as Mildred and her friends suffer dire consequences, the pace of the story quickens.
Writing: Resistance Women is well-researched and thoughtfully written, and I can picture the author writing the story with all of her notecards spread out around her. In this 600 page story, there’s a significant amount of time devoted to the build-up of the war. If the focus on this time in history interests you, you will appreciate the read. The author includes a great deal of “reporting” of the events, a lot of “telling” and minimal “showing.” It’s like reading a history book where we hear about the events but we do not experience them alongside the character. So even though it’s easy reading, the writing isn’t as engaging or page turning as some other historical fiction books that I’ve read over the past years. Nevertheless, I enjoyed Resistance Women because the prewar history and details about the lives of real people fascinate me. If there had been more specific details about the characters’ activities (more intrigue), I would have bumped this up to a full five stars. In summary, this is a “quiet” story that’s heavily character driven with a great deal of emphasis on the build-up to the war.
Characters: Resistance Women shares the experiences of three courageous souls and their resistance efforts: Mildred (an American married to a German man), Greta, and Sara. These three unforgettable and everyday women risk their lives to fight evil. It is especially interesting to read about the American, Mildred, and her commitment to the resistance movement. (trigger warning: disturbing details in the following article) Mildred is a fascinating character to me because she is an American who grew to love her husband’s homeland and risked her life to fight against the Nazis. (Although there are some gruesome details in the article, the book doesn’t include the most disturbing details.) There is a memorial honoring Mildred in Madison, Wisconsin (USA). In Wisconsin schools, Sept. 16 is celebrated as Mildred Harnack Day. It’s her birthday.
An additional note of historical interest is that Mildred Harnack was married to the cousin of the famous theologian, Detrich Bonhoeffer who is mentioned at the beginning of the book. Some of you may recognize the name. This is a book recommendation about Bonhoeffer’s life and his part in the resistance movement.
Themes: Thoughtful themes include hope, friendship, bravery, courage, risk-taking, patriotism, and everyday people doing extraordinary things in the most impossible and difficult circumstances. These themes would contribute to a great book club discussion.
Recommended: Jennifer Chiaverini puts the history into historical fiction! If you are ever frustrated by historical fiction that reads like women’s fiction in a historical setting, you can be assured that there’s an abundance of history in Resistance Women. I recommend this story for readers who love a quieter, character-driven story with lots of historical detail, for those who might be interested in the prewar buildup in Germany, and for fans of Jennifer Chiaverini (and, of course, histfic). This story would provide thoughtful discussion topics for a book club.
My Rating: 4 Stars
Meet the Author, Jennifer Chiaverini
Jennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of FATES AND TRAITORS, MRS. LINCOLN’S DRESSMAKER, MRS. LINCOLN’S RIVAL, THE SPYMISTRESS, MRS. GRANT AND MADAME JULE, and other acclaimed historical novels. She also wrote the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as six collections of quilt patterns inspired by her books. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin. About her historical fiction, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes, “In addition to simply being fascinating stories, these novels go a long way in capturing the texture of life for women, rich and poor, black and white, in those perilous years.”
Have you read any other titles by Jennifer Chiaverini?
Is Resistance Women on your TBR or have you read it?
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