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Resistance Women: Book summary and reviews of Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini

Resistance Women

by Jennifer Chiaverini

Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini X
Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini
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  • Published in USA  Feb 2020
    640 pages
    Genre: Historical Fiction

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About this book

Book Summary

One of BookBub's best historical novels of the year and Oprah magazine's buzziest books of the month.

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.


Meet the Real "Resistance Women"

In Resistance Women, New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini delivers an enthralling historical saga that recreates the danger, romance, and sacrifice of the Weimar Republic and brings to life one courageous, passionate American—Mildred Fish Harnack—and her circle of female friends who waged a clandestine battle against Hitler in Nazi Germany.

Mildred Fish Harnack (1902-1943) A native of Milwaukee, Mildred was a warm and intelligent and a student of literature at the University of Wisconsin. She married a fellow scholar Arvid Harnack and moved to his homeland of Germany in 1929. In the face of growing fascism, Mildred and Arvid forged a covert resistance network called the Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra.) Mildred Harnack was the only American woman to be executed at the explicit order of Adolf Hitler.

Greta Lorke Kuckoff (1902-1981) A native of Frankfurt an der Oder, Greta met Mildred and Arvid while studying economics at the University of Wisconsin, an academic achievement that belied her working-class origins. Greta assisted Jewish friends struggling against the Aryan Laws and helped translate Mein Kampf into English in order to warn people in Great Britain and the United States of his deadly ambitions.

Sara Weitz (1912-2006) A composite character inspired by Rote Kapelle members Liane Berkowitz, the daughter of a famous Russian Jewish symphony conductor; and the Jewish art students Katja Casella and Lisa Gervai-Egler, who, passing for Aryan, worked as couriers for the resistance and hid fugitive Jews in their studio.

Martha Dodd (1908-1990) The impulsive and flirtatious daughter of the American ambassador to Germany. Martha at first praised the "noble, vigorous, youthful" Nazi movement, but her admiration turned to horror after she witnessed their atrocities firsthand. She used her influence within the American embassy—and the Reich hierarchy—to help Jews flee Germany.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Had you heard of Mildred Fish Harnack or the Red Orchestra before reading Resistance Women? What role do novels have in our understanding of history? Did Resistance Women change your perception of World War II or Nazi Germany?
  2. From Mildred's and Greta's humble beginnings to Sara's and Martha's more privileged upbringings, Resistance Women tells the story of women from very different backgrounds. Discuss how their unique personalities contributed to the resistance fight. Which woman's story resonated with you the most?
  3. In response to Mildred saying that she is no longer surprised by the fighting between the Communist Reds and the Nazi Browns, Arvid responds, "Darling, you must never become accustomed to the extraordinary and ...

You can see the full discussion here. This discussion will contain spoilers!

Some of the recent comments posted about Resistance Women:

"Perhaps Germany will serve as a warning," Arvid says. "May they learn from us to snuff out fascism in America when the first sparks arise..." Has America learned that lesson?
Apparently not. Look where we are today. The parallels are astounding. - charleneds

Arvid says, "...you must never become accustomed to the extraordinary and outrageous. If you do, little by little, you'll learn to accept anything." Do you agree?
Sadly, I do. I think it is an obvious truth that is painfully apparent in our society today on multiple levels. Certainly on a political level we now see statements from our leaders which are disrespectful and unnecessary and that we would never ... - vickic

Despite having a young child, Greta and Adam still chose to take part in the Red Orchestra. Do you think you would have done the same?
I don't know that I stay calm and collected to do what they did. - dianaps

Did the sheer scope and length of the book add to your understanding of how long Jewish people and those in the resistance lived in fear and suffered?
I liked that the book started in 1929. Most of the WWII stories start ten years later. The ten year gap gave us a lot more information and the opportunity to get to know the main characters better. - dianaps

Do you think Greta made the right decision to translate Hitler's manifesto? What do you think you would have done in her position?
I think she did. The translation was meant to get the truth of Hitler out to the at large in a language that most of the rest of the world could actually read. - sarahb

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"This fictionalized version of real-life heroes is told with prose that ranges from forthright to eloquent, and the focus on the road to war and evolving attitudes regarding fascism and Nazism is exceptionally insightful, making for a sweeping and memorable WWII novel." - Publishers Weekly

"A riveting, complex tale of the courage of ordinary people." - Kirkus Reviews

"This tale is dense with historical detail, but Chiaverini never loses her focus on her four extraordinarily courageous, resourceful, yet relatable narrators. Chiaverini's many fans and every historical fiction reader who enjoys strong female characters, will find much to love in this revealing WWII novel." - Booklist

The information about Resistance Women shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Lee L.

Powerful and inspiring story!
One of the reasons why I love reading historical fiction is because it gives me a chance to learn about people, places, cultures, time periods, etc. that I may not otherwise have known about. It is also an opportunity for me to better understand aspects of history and the important role we, as human beings, play in shaping and directing the trajectory of this world in which we live.

Even though Jennifer Chiaverini’s latest historical novel Resistance Women is set in a time period that most bibliophiles like me who read a lot of WWII-themed novels are probably very familiar with, the story she tells about American graduate student Mildred Fish Harnack and the many brave women who were part of her Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra) resistance cell in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s, is not one that I had heard of prior to reading this book. Spanning a time period from 1929 all the way through the end of the war, this is an epic tale told in meticulous detail, through the eyes of 4 women who bear witness to Germany’s transformation from a thriving intellectual and cultural hub to an oppressive, violent, and much-feared Nazi regime. In addition to Mildred and Greta, the other 2 perspectives that formed the core narrative were that of Martha Dodd, the lively and vivacious daughter of the U.S. Ambassador, as well as Jewish literature student Sara Weitz (a fictional character based on other Jewish women within the Rote Kapelle network).

Over the years, I’ve read plenty of books about this particular historical period, but this one is unique in that it tells the story not just from the Jewish perspective, but also from that of anti-fascist Germans who were intent on saving their beloved country from total ruin at the hands of a madman. This was a fascinating and insightful read that was absolutely well-researched and well-written (I’m blown away by the extensive amount of research that Chiaverini did and how she was able to incorporate all of it into the story so seamlessly). At nearly 600 pages, also given the subject matter, this was not an easy read by any means, especially the sections that mentioned the horrors and atrocities of what took place during that time – however with that said, being able to learn about these courageous women and getting to hear their inspiring, powerful stories, definitely made this well worth the effort.

One quick footnote – I also noticed the political “comparison” that many of the other readers mentioned in their reviews and while I admit that it did frustrate me a bit at first because I felt it took some of the focus away from what the story was supposed to be about (namely the resistance women who sacrificed their lives to fight against evil), I eventually decided to ignore it and absorb myself in the women’s powerful stories instead.

Received complimentary copy from publisher (William Morrow) via BookBrowse.

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Author Information

Jennifer Chiaverini Author Biography

Jennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of several acclaimed historical novels and the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as six collections of quilt patterns inspired by her books.

Her original quilt designs have been featured in Country Woman, Quiltmaker, Quiltmaker's 100 Blocks Volumes 3-5, and Quilt, and her short stories have appeared in Quiltmaker and Quilters Newsletter.

A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin.

About her historical fiction, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes, "In addition to simply being fascinating stories, these novels go a long way in capturing the texture of life for women, rich and poor, black and white, in those perilous years....

... Full Biography
Link to Jennifer Chiaverini's Website

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