Tuesday, July 26, 2011

In the Garden of Beasts

My reading of Erik Larson continues with his newly published work of non-fiction, "In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin" (448 pages). From the author's web page:

"With this new book, I invite you to journey to Berlin during Hitler’s first year in power, 1933, in the company of a real-life father and daughter from Chicago who suddenly found themselves transported to the heart of the city. They had no conception of the harrowing days that lay ahead. At the time, nothing was certain—Hitler did not yet possess absolute power, and few outsiders expected his government to survive. The family encountered a city suffused with energy and optimism, with some of the most striking, avant-garde buildings in the world. Its theaters, concert halls, and caf├ęs were jammed; the streets teemed with well-dressed attractive people. But my two protagonists were about to begin an education that would change them forever, with ultimately tragic consequences.

The father was William E. Dodd, a mild-mannered professor who, much to his surprise and everyone else’s, was picked by President Roosevelt to be America’s first ambassador to Nazi Germany. His daughter, Martha, was 24 years old, and chose to come along for the adventure, and to escape a dead marriage to a New York banker. They and the rest of their family settled in a grand old house on the city’s central park, the Tiergarten—in literal translation, the Garden of Beasts.

Dodd expected to encounter the same warm citizenry he had known three decades earlier while a graduate student in Leipzig; he hoped to use reason and quiet persuasion to temper Hitler’s government. Martha found the 'New Germany' utterly enthralling, totally unlike the horrific realm depicted in newspapers back home. For her, as for many other foreign visitors at the time, the transformation of Germany was thrilling and not at all frightening. Not yet.

As that first year unfolded they experienced days full of energy, intrigue, and romance—and, ultimately, terror, on a scale they could never have imagined. Their experience tells volumes about why the world took so long to recognize the grave threat posed by Hitler."

Another wonderful effort by Larson to take another point in history, this time a year in Berlin, and transform it into an edge of your seat work of non-fiction. The book chronicles Ambassador Dodd's family in their first year in Nazi Germany, as told mostly through the eyes of Ambassador Dodd and his daughter Martha. The narratives combines notes, diaries, and diplomatic cables that all combine in an engrossing story of the truly horrific rise of Hitler's power. One has to wonder how Germany could be transformed so easily with the German people and the diplomatic world at large doing little or nothing to protest.

Again, another well written and meticulous account by Larson. Highly recommended for fans of the author or the subject matter. Read this book!


Brilliantly Blonde said...

I've been trying to get through this book all summer, but its just so boring!! I feel like I'm reading an encyclopedia- not a novel!!

I'll take your word for it and keep trying!

Dave said...

The beginning is a little dry with the background of the Dodd's but I believe it really picks up when they get to Germany. Perhaps Larson isn't your cup o tea.