Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, an enthralling historical saga that recreates the danger, romance, and sacrifice of an era and brings to life one courageous, passionate American—Mildred Fish Harnack—and her circle of women friends who waged a clandestine battle against Hitler in Nazi Berlin.

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.

I have been completely engrossed with WWII novels lately, and Resistance Women is at the top of my favourites list. It tells the actual accounts of German resistance fighters who sought to undermine Nazi doctrine in German society from the late 1920s through to the end of WWII. The members of the “Red Orchestra”, as Nazi intelligence labeled them, were ordinary German citizens who resisted Nazi rule. None were trained spies or foreign government agents inserted in deep cover; just everyday people who couldn’t stand to watch the downfall of their country or the persecution of fellow citizens.

Resistance Women is unique among the WWII fiction I have read in that it tells the story from the point of view of Germans. Most novels of this time period feature the heroics of American, British or French protagonists, such as The Huntress, and The Alice Network, or document the lives of those persecuted as in The Tattooist of Auschwitz. I was excited to read from a different point of view and in doing so learned a lot about the rise of nationalist socialism in Germany.

Chiaverini’s novel takes begins in the latter days of 1929, and continues to 1946 and victory in Europe. I learned about the second world war in school as we all do but my studies focused on battles and the contributions of soldiers from my own country. Little time was devoted to learning about how the Nazi party emerged and gained popular support in Germany following the conclusion of the Great War. Chiaverini took great pains to craft a story that is both factual and riveting, drawing in the reader while delivering important lessons from history at the same time.

Throughout my reading of Hitler’s rise to power and eventual ascension as Furor, a position comprising both Chancellor and President of the German state, I couldn’t help but draw conclusions between his leadership style and that of former President Trump. Many of the national socialist rally cries that ultimately led to Nazism are reminiscent of those heard around the world today, particularly in America. It is much easier for me to understand now how the Nazis took control of Germany and then Europe, than it was sitting in history class in secondary school.

I highly recommend this novel as a thoroughly engrossing read, but it is vital to anyone who is interested in this time period. It is the first novel I have read of this author, but she has an extensive backlist of previous publications that I will now jump into.

I listened to the unabridged audiobook of Resistance Women, which is narrated by Saskia Maarleveld. She did an amazing job telling the story of Mildred, Greta, Sara and the other members of the resistance network. Her various accents and pronunciation of German words, titles and cities added to the charm of Chiaverini’s writing. Included in the audiobook is an afterword by the author, validating some keys facts about characters who were based on real people and providing some contemporary context to their lives.

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Published by Hannah

Former library clerk, current full-time teacher and employee. I love books and make no promises as to a posting schedule.

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