Thursday, January 19, 2012

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson


My book club is reading this for our February meeting. I kind of got a head start because once I started reading a few pages, I had to find out what would happen next. I've always been interested in this period of history and like many people I've often wondered why the Holocaust couldn't have been averted. Why didn't world leaders see it coming? Reading this book has given me a clearer view of this era. In the prologue of In the Garden of Beasts, author Erik Larson writes "That's the trouble with nonfiction. One has to put aside what we all know - now- to be true, and try instead to accompany my two innocents through the world as they experienced it. These were complicated people moving through a complicated time, before the monsters declared their true nature."

I wondered when I read those lines how I could read a novel that begins in 1933 in Berlin and forget that I knew exactly what was going to happen years later. But somehow Larson nailed it. As I kept reading and following the story of the American ambassador to Berlin, mild-mannered William E. Dodd. and his flirtatious daughter Martha, I started to understand why very few people predicted what Hitler was actually capable of.  No one saw the nightmare that was looming over Germany. Even the few people who realized Hitler was insane didn't believe he would last that long. The atrocities that were reported back to America were looked on as isolated incidents. Anti-semitism was ripe not only in Germany but in the rest of Europe and even in the States. The dispatches and letters sent by the few in the U.S. embassy who believed there was cause for concern were all ignored. America, suffering from the Depression, only wanted Germany to pay it's financial debt back and that's what they tasked Dodd to focus on.


the Dodd family en route to Berlin

Larson follows the years of Dodd's posting in Germany and his growing disillusionment with Germany and with his own job. Martha, who at first is fascinated by the Nazis and her glamorous life in Berlin slowly starts to unravel the truth because of various incidents culminating in the Night of the Long Knives. This was a fascinating read and now I have a better understanding of what happened in Germany in the 30s before the outbreak of war.

Larson is called the master of the nonfiction narrative and that's not surprising. In the Garden of Beasts was as gripping as the best fictional political thrillers .

10 comments:

  1. I absolutely loved this book. It plays out as if it were a story of fiction and its almost scary to realize it actually happened. Larson gives the characters life and you can imagine them living out their lives almost oblivious to the horrors that lay before them. Loved it!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I keep reading fabulous things about this book. Thanks for your excellent, eloquent review. I'm now going to download it on my nook. xo

    ReplyDelete
  3. I really enjoyed Larson's Devil in the White City, even though I very rarely read non-fiction. I was really impressed with how captivating he made the entire story and I'm sure this one is just as good... the only issue is that this is one part of history I feel rather burnt out on! I know it's a somewhat different perspective and all, but whenever a book is released that is about WWII, I always groan and think, "Another one?!?"

    ReplyDelete
  4. I haven't read this one yet, but I did read Devil and the White City and enjoyed it very much.

    ReplyDelete
  5. This looks to be one important book. The retrospect is much needed so that atrocities can be avoided in the future. I remember seeing a documentary wherein a big ship full of Jewish refugees was denied entry when it reached the NY harbour. How we need more writers like Larson to reveal all the facts. I look forward to reading your reviews.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Oh, fun, I'm posting below the other (A)arti! I have heard fairly mixed reviews about this book- sometimes that it is a little too loaded down in facts. That said, I still want to read it :-)

    ReplyDelete
  7. This sounds like an interesting read. My mother-in-law was German and she said they all thought Hitler was wonderful (before they knew what was going on). From their view, they were getting new roads, he promised that everyone would have a car (Volkswagen) and after a bad recession things were improving.
    Ann

    ReplyDelete
  8. To everyone in the Los Angeles area, join us for a discussion of Erik Laron's "In the Garden of Beasts" at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust! The discussion will take place on Sunday, March 4, at 3 PM. It will be lead by Executive Director (and former English teacher!) Mark Rothman. For more information, check out www.lamoth.org. We hope to see you there!

    ReplyDelete
  9. At one level, this is a portrayal of a family. Key characters are William Dodd, an academic desperate to write a book on the South who finds himself oddly enough tapped to become the American Ambassador to Germany in the very early years of Hitler's rule of the country. There is also considerable detail given to Dodd's daughter, Martha. She was coming off a failed marriage and she (and her brother and William's wife) accompanied Dodd in his service in Germany.

    At another level, the book is about the gathering horror of the Third Reich. Sometimes, Germany seems like a modern, civilized country. At other times, though, the darkness of Nazism manifests itself. One small vignette: H. V. Kaltenborn's advocacy of Germany--and his family's terror at a Hitler demonstration where they were frightened by thugs for not carrying out the German salute with the arm. Other small incidents that portend what is to come pop up over the course of the work, providing a dark backdrop to the surface story.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anyone with even a casual interest in the events leading up to the war will find this an invaluable read. It's easily the best book I've read this year, and likely to stay that way. A truly wonderful read!

    ReplyDelete

There was an error in this gadget

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails