Book Review: City of Women, by David R. Gillham

2.5 Stars

I’ve had to ruminate on this one for a while. Let me start by telling you what I expected out of this book. I expected a deeper look into a subject that doesn’t get covered much in fiction: that of an Aryan woman in Nazi Germany. I expected a long, drawn out story about the lives of German women during WWII. The friendships, the spats, the hardships. I expected pining over the husbands/boyfriends at the front. I expected to be uncomfortable and sad. This book didn’t come close to any of that.

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The story revolves around Sigrid, a supposedly ‘model’ German woman who becomes ensnared in an underground movement to hide ‘criminals’ from the SS. Along the way, she has a lot of sex.

A lot of people are complaining about the amount of sex in this book. I didn’t mind the sex so much as I minded the author’s obvious obsession with it. It was almost as if the man couldn’t think of what women would do without men around. Obviously, instead of going about daily life like normal, trying to survive in a war-torn country, they would become sex-starved philanderers. Obviously. Sex was really the only thing the main character thought about. It seemed to be her motivation for everything she did. And I say seemed to be, because I’m not really sure what else her motivation was supposed to be. Guilt? Morals? Boredom? Rebellion? Suicidal tendencies? No one knows because it’s not made clear.  None of the character motivations are made clear, actually. They seem to just be ping-ponging off of one another, content to wander aimlessly throughout life while making random decisions. Or maybe that’s supposed to be the general feeling. I understand these people would’ve been numb to the world, but come on. They have to have some reason for the decisions they make.

The writing wasn’t awful, but there were more typos and misspellings in this book than I think I’ve ever seen in a traditionally published novel. He also used the same descriptors too much (gun sight, German glance) and the main character was forever repeating what other characters were saying. Not to contribute anything to the conversation, or even to show confusion. She was just a parrot. It’s also largely written in the present tense, which is odd for any book, let alone historical fiction. I let that go, though, because I thought maybe the author was trying to portray a greater sense of urgency by making it seem like the events were happening right now. Maybe.

Overall, I think this was a lighter read and okay for a historical novel. Not great, but not unreadable, either. It would have been better if it was longer and focused less on pointless conversations with the men in her life (yes, men in a book called City of Women) and more on the details of the time. And the author knows the details, that’s the ridiculous part. You can actually tell that he did do some research. He just doesn’t present it very well.

The good thing is that the book is written well enough to make you continue reading. There are twists that are unexpected, but the foreshadowing to them is pretty much nonexistent. Which is probably why they’re unexpected.

If you’re looking for a romance-ish novel with some historical stuff thrown in, this is for you. If you want something that delves deeper into the time period and the suffering that would’ve went hand in hand with a city being bombed several times a week, look elsewhere.

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