REVIEW: Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini
After Wisconsin graduate student Mildred Fish marries brilliant German economist Arvid Harnack, she accompanies him to his German homeland, where a promising future awaits. In the thriving intellectual culture of 1930s Berlin, the newlyweds create a rich new life filled with love, friendships, and rewarding work—but the rise of a malevolent new political faction inexorably changes their fate.
As Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party wield violence and lies to seize power, Mildred, Arvid, and their friends resolve to resist. Mildred gathers intelligence for her American contacts, including Martha Dodd, the vivacious and very modern daughter of the US ambassador. Her German friends, aspiring author Greta Kuckoff and literature student Sara Weitz, risk their lives to collect information from journalists, military officers, and officials within the highest levels of the Nazi regime.
For years, Mildred’s network stealthily fights to bring down the Third Reich from within. But when Nazi radio operatives detect an errant Russian signal, the Harnack resistance cell is exposed, with fatal consequences.
Inspired by actual events, Resistance Women is an enthralling, unforgettable story of ordinary people determined to resist the rise of evil, sacrificing their own lives and liberty to fight injustice and defend the oppressed.
Dear Ms. Chiaverini,
World War II and the Resistance are hot topics to write about now. I saw this book offered and was excited to read about a group in Germany, working to bring about Hitler’s and the Nazis’ downfall. Years ago I had read a fabulous book about the White Rose group called “Berlin Underground,” but this one would tell me about the Red Orchestra. Unfortunately, I found this book long, slow and tedious.
Part of the problem is that the action starts in mid 1920s and exhaustively continues through the end of the war. And as four women are the means to tell the story, chapters jump back and forth between them which meant sometimes I’d lose track of where the narrative was for each person.
We start with Mildred finding the love of her life in her German husband Arvid but quickly things begin to go downhill as Mildred and Arvid first have trouble getting the money to bring Mildred to Germany and then there are separations once she arrives. Things only get worse as the Wall Street crash in the US triggers financial issues in Germany’s newly emerging post-war economy.
Sara’s family are well off and her beautiful elder sister has married a Wehrmacht officer but as Hitler begins to grasp for power, alarming signs of Antisemitism begin to appear.
Greta is from a working class family who have sacrificed so that she and her brother (who soon is entirely lost to the story) can pursue higher education. Arriving back in Germany from the US as the economy falters, she struggles to find employment even as she falls into a torrid relationship with a married man who stimulates her mind as well as her heart.
Martha Dodd is the outgoing, flamboyant daughter of the newly appointed US ambassador to Germany. When she first arrives, she is struck by all that the Germans have done to pull their country out of the depression and enthusiastically Sieg Heils every SS or SA person she sees. It takes a while for her to see the reality of the situation but in the meantime, she’s also falling under the spell of a Soviet spy.
As the unimaginable starts to take place, all four watch Germany fall under the spell and control of a man and political party who horrify them. How can this occur? Surely Germans will regain their senses. But that doesn’t happen and daily life spirals out of control with street riots, arrests, and the destruction of the peoples’ rights.
All have opportunities to leave Germany but hesitate due to all the reasons that I’ve heard were given – we’re German so why should we leave our home? It can’t last and soon the country will realize Hitler is a madman. If we all flee, who will fight for our country?
The book does a good job delineating the slow descent of Germany into the madness of National Socialism. With the four people who are the focus of the story, most events can be in some way depicted and tied to characters we’ve come to know. I wasn’t surprised to read that one character is a construct done to tie together various events from “her” POV. I was annoyed that Martha Dodds – who as a Soviet spy went so far as to try and influence who replaced her father as the US ambassador to suit the Soviets – seems to get a free pass on this.
The book also commits a cardinal sin for me in being boring. There is a whole heaping bunch of telling instead of showing. Lots and lots of telling, telling, telling which gets tedious and distancing. After a while I realized that it was more like reading a textbook rather than a story that pulled me in and held me riveted which this story ought to have done. It’s clear that a lot of research was done but most of it is crammed into the narrative whether or not it’s really needed. The resistance parts almost take a backseat and little is seen of them until over 2/3 of the way into the book.
This is an important story and these are people the world ought to know about. But this is not the book I would recommend to do that. C-
As a historical novel, I find it interesting that no mention is made of Canada joining the war on Sept 10, 1939 after Hitler invaded Poland that same month. Yet, the US, who only joined in Dec of 1941, after Pearl Harbour was attacked, gets full mention.
@Mary: I think probably because a) Canada always gets the short shrift and b) (with this book in particular) the real life characters had all either been to and studied in the US or were US citizens (and the family of the US ambassador to Germany).
@Jayne: I don’t think it’s just that. Americans generally take more credit for winning WWII than is their fair share. It’s almost never taught that FDR knew about the concentration camps but chose not to bomb them, or that a lot more Russians gave their lives to help win the war than Americans.
@Janine: I was talking about why there was no mention of Canada in this book.
@Jayne: Yes, I know. It’s all part and parcel of the same thing, though, especially if the book is aimed largely at US readers.
Looking forward to meeting you at the book festival in Fort Mers, FL on March 07, 2020. I was so excited today when I saw your name on the list of participating authors.