Fragments of a Woman

Written by Emma Venables
Review by Janet Hancock

Keen to give a voice to human beings beyond history’s dates and events, and to go further than accepted tropes, author Emma Venables explores women’s experiences of living under National Socialist rule in Germany. What choices were they forced to make? What happened if they didn’t shut up and obey? What happened if they did?

The title is apt, for in fewer than three hundred pages we have powerful glimpses into the lives of five women between 1933 and 1945: Ingrid, wife of a Nazi official; their daughter, Lore; Liesel, a lesbian who marries a gay man, hoping they can protect each other from the authorities’ censure; Greta, spurned by Liesel and absorbed by the Resistance; Gisela, a prostitute.

Dealing with themes of love in its many forms, trauma, and survival, the writing is spare yet strong. How about: The man walks into the room as a chapter-opener? It works here. We are with these women all the way. The narrative is at times harrowing, shocking; the final chapters, as the Russians take control of a shattered Berlin, I could only read a few pages at a time. Yet, the book ends on a note of hope. Excellent historical fiction which takes the reader to another era and shows how it must have been.