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City of Women


City of Women Cover

ISBN13: 9780399157769
ISBN10: 039915776x
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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These events happened a while back, when the war was not quite a war, more a prelude to a war. Their army was called a guerrilla force. Our army was called a Military Assistance Command. The war is the least of the story that follows. It cast its own shadow, and to live within it was to live within a sphere of strained silence and self-reliance.

   Foreign service officer Harry Sanders was visiting river villages in one of the southern provinces. He traveled by boat with a helmsman and a bodyguard, a lethargic army sergeant who sat in the stern, a carbine in his lap, his eyes invisible behind army-issue sunglasses. Foliage along the edges of the river was thick and, where the channel narrowed, so close that the leaves touched the boats hull. The helmsman throttled back, explaining that he was disoriented by the river water, dead still and reflective as a mirror. Stare at it long enough and it was hard to tell up from down.

   The Americans were there to inspect projects in five villages, a schoolhouse in one, wells in two others, a guardhouse in the fourth, a clinic in the fifth. The clinic was Harrys particular interest, certainly the most troubling, completed only the week before. Construction delays were chronic. The idea was to verify that the work had been done and that the projects were fully operational and useful to the inhabitants. There were always complaints and Harry was there to listen to the complaints — the leaking roofs, the lack of proper medicines, the strange noise the well made. In each village the headman would take Harry to the project, whatever it was, and explain the difficulty, and Harry wrote the complaints in a notebook and promised action, though not right away. The sergeant always stood a little apart, holding his carbine while he scrutinized the surroundings. The first three villages were empty of people, always a bad sign. Asked about that, the headman would say the people were in the fields, harvesting. But they were nowhere in sight. The villages were the soul of silence. Nothing moved in the damp heat. Even the insects had disappeared. Asked about the security situation, the headman smiled vaguely and said there had been no change. The villages were exposed. Why, only the other day a platoon of the enemy had arrived at dusk and harangued them for an hour or more. There were threats. Finally they took what they wanted and departed. What did they want? They wanted food and volunteers and went away with the food and three teenage boys. The headman was small of stature, middle-aged, with a wispy beard that fell to his chest. His eyes were hooded and he never looked directly at Harry.

   We should go now, the sergeant said.

   What do you see?

   Nothing. Thats the trouble.

   Harry thanked the headman and gave him some money and he and the sergeant walked slowly down the path to the boat. When Harry looked back, the headman had vanished. He wondered how they did it, disappear into thin air like Ali Baba. He thought that somehow they dwelled in a parallel universe, one of their own making. The American presence covered them the way a shroud covered a grave. No hint of the shape of things beneath the shroud. The shroud was opaque. Anything could be under it, a corpse or a bomb or a pygmy elephant or a naked woman. And if the shroud were suddenly ripped away—well, perhaps one would find nothing at all. Harry supposed that someday a native of the region would write a poem describing the parallel universe, its weather and dimensions, its values, what it loved and what it loathed, its aspirations. Why were foreigners hated so? Not only Americans but everyone else. And the poem would be translated into an English filled with obscure allusions, dry as dust but something seething beneath the surface.

   They motored on to Village Number Four, mostly unoccupied, though the word that came to mind was “abandoned.” The guardhouse looked unoccupied. The headman stood impassively to greet him, two small children hanging on his legs. Harry took the presence of the children as a hopeful sign. They were the only hopeful sign, and as he looked about him at the stilted houses and the gray concrete guardhouse he thought that a splash of color would improve the look of things. He often summoned optimistic images when in the sullen countryside and what he conjured now was a newspaper kiosk, the sort of cheerful amenity found on Paris boulevards. Perhaps a café with red awnings and a white-aproned waiter balancing a drinks tray on the tips of his fingers. Somewhere nearby music floated from an open window, French cabaret, horns and violins and Piafs raw throat. Girls in short skirts, a boulevardier walking his dog . . . The mirage was unsuccessful. Perhaps next time, something more durable, the Hoover Dam or a Mayan pyramid. Stonehenge. Harry shook hands with the headman, who avoided looking him in the eye. They stood a moment talking of the security situation, the weather, his family. The weather was normal, the security situation in flux, his wife was ill. Harry said, Your village appears deserted. Where is everyone? The headman moved his arms as if to indicate they were elsewhere, in the fields, round and about, parts unknown.

   Harry nodded as if he sympathized. He always wondered how the villagers got on from day to day. He had difficulty imagining ordinary life in this settlement that looked so sour and bereft and fantastic at the same time—as if somewhere in the knotted jungle was a great golden temple with flourishing gardens and still ponds. The stilted houses seemed to float unmoored above the earth. There were just six houses and the guardhouse. Of course these were observations from Western eyes, fundamentally doubtful. Certainly life in this village was as dense as life anywhere, subtle rules and ordinances, unusual understandings, civic mysteries, all of it crowded by the ghosts of ancestors. It was said that native people wanted what everyone everywhere wanted, a roof over their heads, three meals a day, a doctors care when they were sick, a more prosperous life generally; the rule of law would come in there somewhere. Surely all this was true but there was much more besides, a way of life that was in some measure unique, a life that honored the past and spoke to the spirit. In any case, in this village intruders were tolerated but not welcome. There had been many intruders over the centuries and what they had brought was grief. Harry and the headman walked to the guardhouse, the headman silent. He had exhausted his English and so they stood mute before the building. This was yet another difficulty. The language was complex and not easily mastered, a tongue of indirection and metaphor, untimely laughter as punctuation. Perhaps that was how remote societies protected themselves, presenting a masked face to the world, a face so blank that anything could be read into it.

   Guardhouse roof leaks, the headman said.

   Ah, Harry said.

   Three leaks.


   I have put pots on the floor.

   For the leaks?

   Yes, for the leaks.

   Harry looked in and saw the pots in the corner, and where the washstand was meant to be there was a television set, its antenna coiled uselessly beside it.

   Ill see to the leaks, Harry said. No prisoners, I see.

   We are a peaceable village, the headman said.

   All this time, Sergeant Orono had been looking at his watch while he snapped gum. Harry smiled at the headman and the headman smiled back.

   They returned to the boat and continued downriver to the fifth village, the one with the clinic that lacked medicine and a competent doctor. The river meandered, its slow current weary in the afternoon heat. The river widened and the sergeant seemed to relax. Then he lit a cigarette, all the while staring into the vegetation, reeds and light green bushes. He stared now to port, now to starboard, watching for movement, but there was no movement nor any breath of air. No birds. The helmsman suddenly throttled back. He nudged Harry, took a deep breath, and pointed at his nose. The air was different. Decaying vegetation and the silty smell of water yielded to something else.

   Smoke, Sergeant Orono said.

   Ahead, the helmsman said.

   Our village, the sergeant said. This is not good news. We should abort.

   Full ahead, Harry said to the helmsman.

   The goddamn village is burning, the sergeant said.

   We will keep on, Harry said.

   You are not armed, the sergeant said.

   Nevertheless, Harry said, I have orders.

   Smell it now, the helmsman said. I think the sergeants right.

   Ive been here before, Harry said. Its an ordinary village. No better, no worse than the last one.

   So have I, said the sergeant. Ive taken fire from this village. Its a shit village, enemy village.

   Slow ahead, Harry said.

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Liesel, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by Liesel)
This is a very different take on life in Germany during WWII. The women in this book are extremly complex and courageous. Day to day life is difficult especially if you are surrounded by gossips and stool pigeons who watch your every move. A Jewish girl enlists the help of a German woman to assist her in moving Jews out of Germany with fake documents. There are no scenes of the usual war time themes, no battles, no spies or Gestapo themes. It really is a picture of daily life in war time Berlin for women struggling to get by.
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Silvers Reviews, November 8, 2012 (view all comments by Silvers Reviews)
he book's title indicates what Berlin was like during WWII....women waiting for their soldiers to return home, women enduring the air raids, women keeping an eye out for traitors and those not following the German edicts at that time, and women going to work.

Sigrid lived with her mother-in-law and hated every moment. She worked in the day and kept people on their toes at all times, but always made friends. Her favorite place to meet people for clandestine reasons or even legitimate reasons was in the movie theater. You will follow Sigrid through her daily routines as well as her covert actions of smuggling and other secret activities. You will also be fearing what her decisions would be in different situations.....situations involving fellow citizens, situations where she would be meeting a lover, or situations where she was helping hide Jewish people. I liked Sigrid and could see why she despised living with her mother-in-law. She was a very strong woman and knew who she could trust and who was actually trying to trick her to see if she was being loyal to Hitler. Her decisions were the basis of the book and what made the book quite gripping.

The book was beautifully written with wonderful detail and great descriptions of what life was like in Berlin at that time in history. The German names were a bit difficult to keep track of, and it took a few pages to get into the storyline, but you could figure out what was going on was because of the author's magnificent writing.

This is a compelling novel that has you putting yourself into the story and also making you nervous for the characters as they endured the life they were leading or fearing the outcomes when they were carrying out unethical or illegal deeds. You will become absorbed in the story and the characters simply because of the eloquent writing style of the author and its riveting content.

Even though it takes a few pages to get involved with the characters and the story, it is a book you won't want to miss. The cover itself is enough to draw you in. The genuine feel of the era is magnificently relayed to the reader and takes you along page by page into Berlin and into the lives and terrors of Berlin's citizens. 5/5

I received this book free of charge at the BEA in June of 2012 in exchange for an honest review.
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Yvonne Jefferson, September 21, 2012 (view all comments by Yvonne Jefferson)
I'll admit the cover was what drew me to this book when I first saw it on a website advertising upcoming titles. Then I read a little about it...a story set in Germany during World War II told from a woman's perspective but written by a man...okay, this was definately going on the TBR list. I patiently waited for the release date and then for the library to catalog the book. Finally, it arrived and it was worth the wait. One of the best books I've read this year.....and it has a pretty cover.
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Product Details

Gillham, David R
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Gillham, David R.
Bertish, Suzanne
Just, Ward
Literature-A to Z
General Fiction
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
from 12
includes readers guide inside
9 x 6 in 0.98 lb
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » New Arrivals

City of Women Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$9.95 In Stock
Product details 272 pages Amy Einhorn Books - English 9780399157769 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Synopsis" by , From American master Ward Just, returning to his trademark territory of Forgetfulness and The Weather in Berlin, an evocative portrait of diplomacy and desire set against the backdrop of America's first lost war

"Synopsis" by ,
Harry Sanders is a young foreign service officer in 1960s Indochina when a dangerous and clandestine meeting with insurgents—ending in quiet disaster—and a brief but passionate encounter with Sieglinde, a young German woman, alter the course of his life.

Absorbing the impact of his misstep, Harry returns briefly to Washington before eventual assignments in Africa, Scandinavia, and the Mediterranean. He marries the captivating May, who is fleeing her own family disappointments in worn-out upper New England and looking for an escape into Harrys diplomatic life. On the surface, they are a handsome, successful couple—but the memory of Sieglinde persists in Harrys thoughts, and May has her own secrets too. As Harry navigates the increasingly treacherous waters of diplomacy in an age of interminable conflict, he also tries to bridge the distances between himself and the two alluring women who have chosen to love him.

Ward Just, returning to his trademark territory of Forgetfulness and The Weather in Berlin, delivers an utterly compelling story of Americans trying to run the world, yet failing to master their lives.

"Synopsis" by ,

It is 1943and#151;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 Schrand#246;der is the model German soldierand#8217;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 faand#231;ade 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 secretsand#151;she soon finds herself caught between what is right and what is wrong, and what falls somewhere in the shadows between the two . . .


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