Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Women from a Man's Perspective

I feel like I haven't given my love of historical fiction novels enough time and energy on my blog. I've been a bit of a history nut for as long as I can remember. In addition to historical fiction, I am a sucker for a good biography - no matter if the person in question is really someone that matters in the grand scheme of history or not.

When we received an "advanced" copy of City of Women in my office (I say "advanced" because I didn't get around to reading it until the actual copy was released), I knew I had to read it. The book centers on a character named Sigrid, a woman living in Berlin during the height of the Second World War. While her husband fights on the Eastern Front, she embarks on a personal journey that forces her to think about what is right and what is wrong. While that's a difficult task any time, trying to find your moral compass when your entire world is being turned upside-down is even harder.

As a whole, this book delivers on excitement, historical value, and all around great character development. It offers a pretty good glimpse into Nazi Germany (not that I lived there - obviously - but I've done enough studying of that time period to know it isn't terribly inaccurate), although I would think making love to a man who was not your husband, hiding Jewish families from the SS, and befriending both a resistance worker and a lesbian were probably even more dangerous during that time period than the book implies. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop throughout the whole book. I don't really believe that the Gestapo visited suspected resistance workers multiple times without actually bringing them in for questioning, especially after their close friends had already been arrested. Maybe I'm wrong...

While the story was engaging, it was obviously not without flaws. The biggest difficulty I had was that the book was written by a man but was supposed to be from the point of view of the woman leftover in a mostly-deserted, war-torn city. While the emotional development was for the most part very real, very convincing, for all of the characters - especially the lead - I thought the sexual developments were lacking. The conflict in the book starts because Sigrid meets a man - a Jewish man - and begins an affair. The description of their love-making, her memories of him, and her thoughts about other men don't read as believable. While this may have nothing to do with a man trying to write from a woman's perspective, I do see that is a limitation. Within the last ten years, there have been many books, movies, and tv shows which accurately described the female psyche related to sex. This book misses that mark, in my opinion.

All in all, I think City of Women was worth the read. Like so many books I've read lately, the ending wrapped up a bit faster than I would have liked. Before I judge that fact too harshly, however, I'd be interested in reading the final copy, as some finished versions have remarkable differences from the advanced copy.

For those of you who haven't read a book review of mine in the past, you'll get used to the fact that I don't provide much of a plot description.  They aren't those kind of reviews.  If you want to know what the book is about, this article describes it pretty accurately.


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