City of Women: A Novel

City of Women: A Novel

by David R. Gillham

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Whom do you trust, whom do you love, and who can be saved? A gripping tale of Berlin in the Second World War, from the author of Annelies.

It is 1943—the height of the Second World War. With the men away at the front, Berlin has become a city of women.

On the surface, Sigrid Schröder is the model German soldier’s wife: She goes to work every day, does as much with her rations as she can, and dutifully cares for her meddling mother-in-law, all the while ignoring the horrific immoralities of the regime.

But behind this façade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman of passion who dreams of her former Jewish lover, now lost in the chaos of the war. But Sigrid is not the only one with secrets—she soon finds herself caught between what is right and what is wrong, and what falls somewhere in the shadows between the two . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101599341
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/07/2012
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 82,059
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

David R. Gillham is the New York Times-bestselling author of City of Women. He spent more than a decade in the book business, and now lives with his family in western Massachusetts and is currently working on his second novel.

What People are Saying About This

Anderson McKean

—Anderson McKean (Page & Palette, Fairhope, AL)

Leslie Reiner

—Leslie Reiner (Inkwood Books, Tampa, FL)

Leigh Barnes

—Leigh Barnes (The Book Bin, Onley, VA)

From the Publisher

"You haven't experienced such gray skies since season 1 of The Killing, but the feel is all Casablanca. I can't wait for Gillham's next novel—play it again, Sam." —Stephen King

"The writing is a great mix of the literary and commercial, page-turning and suspenseful, with a morally complex, intelligent heroine at its center. If you’re a fan of well-written historical novels in the vein of Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, this one is for you."--Slate

“If you enjoy beautiful storytelling, gripping suspense, and distractingly romantic plot, this is the book for you! An exciting page-turning read!”—Kathleen Grissom, New York Times bestselling author of The Kitchen House

“A thriller of searing intensity that asks the most urgent of questions—how to love, who to trust, what can be saved in the very darkest of times. I found it utterly compelling.” —Margaret Leroy, New York Times bestselling author of The Soldier’s Wife

“In this moving and masterful debut, David Gillham brings war-torn Berlin to life and reveals the extraordinary mettle of women tested to their limits and beyond. Powerful and piercingly real. You won’t soon forget these characters.”—Paula McLain, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife

“[A] stunning debut . . . Transcendent prose.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“As impossible to put down as it is to forget.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"A terrifically tense first novel."—The Times


Watch, Listen, Eat

An essay by David R. Gillham

One way I tried to build the atmosphere of Sigrid's Berlin was by introducing wartime movies, music, and food into the narrative. Of course, when Sigrid attends the cinema, it not really to watch a movie. She's looking for a small space of privacy, which is why she favors war movies. These didn't do very well at the box office in Berlin; the audiences for them were usually sparse. The average Berliner was less interested in seeing propaganda films such as Soldiers of Tomorrow than Heinz Rühmann in escapist fare such as The Gas Man, or Gustaf Gründgens in a lavish eighteenth-century costume drama. For more recent movies that capture either the essence of Berlin or the stunning contradictions of the war years, I'd recommend Cabaret and Europa, Europa.

You can still find a lot of popular music from the time period. In the book, Sigrid's mother-in-law is listening to Lale Andersen singing on the radio. Andersen's number-one wartime success was the ubiquitous “Lili Marleen”—a song that created such a stir that even British forces fighting in North Africa adopted it as one of their favorite tunes.

Naturally, classical music was still at the top of German radio playlists during the war: Beethoven, Mozart, Bach—though the music of all Jewish composers was banned from the airwaves. If you're interested in the antic, often slightly loopy music of pre-Nazi Berlin, which Sigrid would have listened to while growing up, there are still recordings available of entertainers such as Margo Lion, the famously hilarious cabaret singer, or the popular ensemble known as the Comedian Harmonists. Marlene Dietrich was “falling in love again” in the golden twenties and early thirties, and later recorded a number of her songs from the era in English. The internationally acclaimed chanteuse Ute Lemper has released renditions of cabaret songs that were all the rage in Berlin between the wars, in both English and the original German (“Ich Bin ein Vamp!” for example). Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester are phenomenal at re-creating the music of that time (from “Fräulein, Pardon” to “Mein Gorilla.”)

For those interested in what the average Berlin Hausfrau was serving at the table during the war, I recommend Gisela McBride's Memoirs of a 1000-Year-Old Woman. Her autobiography stretches from the late twenties to the war's end, and is chock-full of details illuminating everyday life, including recipes. (I cannot vouch for the healthfulness of any of these dishes, or the taste, but if you need recipes for cabbage dumplings, cabbage fish rolls, cabbage pie, or cabbage strudel, you'll find them there).

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City of Women 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 95 reviews.
Talia_Weintraub More than 1 year ago
I could not put this book down! The story itself was so engaging that I just couldn't stop thinking about it. The main character felt like a nuanced, real person; reading her story made me wonder how I would have behaved if I was faced with similar circumstances. Definitely a good book club book that would prompt a lot of discussion. For me, it was a perfect mix because it had a juicy, compelling plot but the writing was very good. I felt like I was learning what it was like to live in Berlin during World War II.
bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
Author David Gillham's debut novel, City of Women, has an interesting premise: in WWII Berlin, the city is filled mainly with women, as the men are off to war. I found the thought intriguing, a city where the women went to work, kept the home fires burning, but also actively supported the cause of war. Or did they? Sigrid works at a factory and lives with her miserable mother-in-law while her husband is fighting at the front. She is unhappy, and one day attends an afternoon movie and begins a torrid sexual relationship with a Jewish man hiding in the movie theatre balcony. Sigrid grows tired of pretending to be the supportive wife, the good German who believes that what her country is doing is right. She becomes curious about Ericha, the young mother's helper in the downstairs apartment, and when she discovers that the girl is helping to hide Jews, Sigrid reluctantly becomes involved after Ericha tells her "Compromise is the lesson of the day. It's easy to do. A pregnant woman with a yellow star must walk in the freezing rain because Jews are barred from public transport. Just don't look. A man is beaten by the police in front of his children. Don't look. The SS march a column of skeletons, in filthy striped rags, down the middle of the goddamned street. But don't look," she whispers roughly. "You avert your eyes enough times, and finally you go blind. You don't actually see anything any longer." We've all heard about the French Resistance, but I have heard little about the Germans who were covertly working against their country. There certainly were people there who followed their conscience, at their own peril. When Sigrid's lover disappears, she is distraught. She becomes involved with her neighbor's brother, a brutish soldier who uses his connections take advantage of others. She hopes to use him to find her lost lover. Her Jewish lover reappears and asks her to help him with something illicit. Sigrid doesn't know whom to trust. Meanwhile, Sigrid has become more involved in hiding Jews. She becomes attached to a mother and her two young daughters, believing them to be her Jewish lover's family who disappeared. The author gives us a real look at what it's like to live in a war zone; some of the strongest scenes take place as the residents of the apartment hide from bombs being dropped. You can actually feel the claustrophobia of all those people locked in a small space. There are many tense scenes in the novel; several times I felt myself gritting my teeth, waiting to see what would happen. Gillham wrote some brilliant characters, and placed them in situations that had me questioning if I would have the courage that Sigrid and Ericha showed. This is the kind of novel that has you racing through the pages to finish, and yet once you did, you wanted to sit back and contemplate what you had just read for a long while. I loved the complicated journey that Sigrid finds herself on. I think it would be a fabulous film, with many great roles for female actresses. I would love to see that movie.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A novel i could not put down i couuld picture the vharacters snd betlin ss if watching a movie I eould highly recommend it I hope yo find more from this author
ce22 More than 1 year ago
Once you start reading, you will find it very difficult to put this novel down. Sigrid, the central character, is a woman of exceptional charisma, and her journey is a compelling one. David Gillham, who seems to know the city of Berlin at the time of World War II as if he was present then and there to witness, delivers a thrilling tale of both romance and intrigue. Unfolding in these vivid and moving scenes and lively dialogues are questions of morality and survival. What is courage made of? Who can be trusted? How many ways can one love? Highly recommended.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good read, really wove several mini stories together and gave a feel for war torn Berlin, the brave, evil, oblivious. The rationing, the air raids, the general populace encouraged to reproduce and have lots of kids. ANd some espionage, sometimes from unexpected places.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book that made you wonder what any of us would do. The book was a completely new look @ Berliner's in war time.
anniemichelle More than 1 year ago
Every time I read about "Hitler's War" I am amazed by the people and the choices they make and I wonder, what would I have done? How would I have handled my life in war…… The story starts out a little slow and this is not a fun or light read, this is gut wrenching and thought provoking & it took me a while to get into it but once I did I needed to know more. Sigrid is a good German Girl. World war 2 is coming to an end, her husband as with most of the men in Berlin are dead or off fighting and she is left alone in a city of women. she is living with her nasty mother in law and the only thing to do to escape the hell of war is go to the theatre. It is there that she is reluctantly drawn in to helping the Jews and eventually falling in love with one of them. This is a book about questions and choices, how and why we make them and the consequences that can follow us for a lifetime. P.S. I love the cover art of this book...:)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I greatly appreciated reading about what the women sacrificed while their husbands were at the frontlines .It took alot of courage to do what they did
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book! Compelling story. I simply could not put the book down. A must read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A superb read for anyone enjoying a mix of suspense, broken relationships, romance and the terror of living in Nazi Germany in opposition to the totalitarian regime.
Giovina More than 1 year ago
David Gillham has written a truly rich and profound novel. It speaks of the  survival and courage of all women during WWII in Nazi Germany. You are instantly transported to that time and  place; to the almost  hopeless situations that these women are forced to endure but ultimately there is survival for some. I was truly moved because it was written by a man in a woman's voice. Time well spent! Looking forward to reading more from this author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was worried that this would be just a romance style novel. Thankfully it has aspects of it, but is more about human character. I loved this book so much. It makes you look at life, at situations, and forces that make people change into things they would have thought abhorrant before.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I truly enjoyed the story, but his editor could have caught the mistakes in the book and it would have read easier. It interferred with the flow and I had to go back and reread sentences for it to make sense. I would have thought they would have done a better job with editing. Maybe next time they will be more careful.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was thouroughly impressed with this novel. It showed a side of the Second World War that we don't normally think about. It follows the women who are left behind in Berlin as most of the men are away at war. I wrapped up in Singred's story and how she became a completly different women in just a few short but life-changing months. I thought it was great to see The War from a German's veiw and especially a women's. It was thought-provoking and very deeply moving. Although the main topic as well as a few accompanying topics were controversial, it was so well written and handled appopriately.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thought provoking, good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was an engaging book that kept my interest peeked. The characters were flawed, nasty, heroic and......very human. The story line is not one that has been repeated so many times that you find yourself growing bored while reading. I will make it a point to read this author in the future.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Highly recommend this book. The story was compelling, juicy, great writting and taught me a lot about war time Berlin. I'm a slow reader (read at night in bed and often fall asleep) but I couldn't put this book down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have already recommended this to all of my friends and colleagues. If you like World War II history this is a great find. It's got action, intrigue, romance 9not the Harlequin romance kind) and a heavy dose of history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although a novel, it gave a possible view of day-to-day survival during one of the worst times in history. It would be interesting to know if the main character would have made the same "relationship" decisions during peacetime or if her liaisons were survival tactics. Very interesting to watch her transform into an underground participant. Don't know what I would have had the courage to do. This would make an excellent discussion for a book club. Very interesting reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Definitely a page-turner. Great story very character-driven with a unique set of twists and turns. I learned a lot about that time in history from a much different viewpoint . Loved it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A terrific read.
LIBRA-READER More than 1 year ago
Let me just say that this is an absolutely impressive book! I was blown away by how nuanced and rich this story was. I literally read this book in one day...I could NOT put it down. I am an avid reader, and this book is one of the best books I have read since the Dove Keepers. This is a beautiful story of World War II Berlin, and the women there who had the courage to make a difference. In addition to incredible characters, this book has a plot that keeps you guessing all along the way. An absolute must read, hands down!
pxxee More than 1 year ago
Wonderful Book The characters are real; you feel that you have been transported to war torn Berlin and feel the tension and fear these women felt.  I couldn't stop reading, read it too fast, and was dissapointed that it ended.  Definitely a book to linger through and savor.  I love to buy books, and many I give away, but this one will stay in my library and I'll read it again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a beautifully written and compelling story of a group of women during WW2. It centers around Sigrid a housewife whose husband is at war and she is living with her mother-in-law. Sigrid loves to go to the cinema just for a few moments of peace; there she meets a stranger and the story begins ... twists and turns, a real page turner. This is a story of courage and of doing the right thing no matter what the cost may be; of normal people doing incredible acts under the most difficult situations. You will not be disappointed.