cover image City of Women

City of Women

David R. Gillham. Putnam/Amy Einhorn, $25.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-399-15776-9

In this stunning debut about the battle between good and evil, Gillham puts a fresh spin on the horrors of WWII by focusing on civilian German women to reveal that, amid the many adherents of the party line there were a handful of unsung heroes. We first meet Sigrid Schröder in 1943. She is an unassuming stenographer stuck in a loveless marriage and living in Berlin with her sour, difficult mother-in-law. But her life is not as common as it seems, for she has a lover, a Jewish lover, and if that were not risky enough, Sigrid becomes entangled with a neighbor who is helping to shelter Jews. As the war progresses, and Sigrid’s husband is sent to the Russian front, she’s drawn deeper into a world where trust is a hard-won commodity. The line between what is “right” and “wrong” becomes harder to define as Sigrid, confronted with increasingly more horrifying realities, finds her resolve constantly tested. Gillham’s transcendent prose (“Looking into her eyes is like staring thorough the windows of a bombed-out building”; “The words both murdered her and made her whole”), powerfully drawn characters, and the multilayered dilemmas make his first literary effort a powerful revelation. Agent: Rebecca Gradinger, Fletcher & Company. (Aug.)