In The Garden of Beasts
Love and terror in Hitler's Berlin
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Berlin,1933. William E. Dodd, a mild-mannered academic from Chicago, has to his own and everyone else's surprise, become America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany, in a year that proves to be a turning point in history.
Dodd and his family, notably his vivacious daughter, Martha, observe at first-hand the many changes - some subtle, some disturbing, and some horrifically violent - that signal Hitler's consolidation of power. Dodd has little choice but to associate with key figures in the Nazi party, his increasingly concerned cables make little impact on an indifferent U.S. State Department, while Martha is drawn to the Nazis and their vision of a 'New Germany' and has a succession of affairs with senior party players, including first chief of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels.
But as the year darkens, Dodd and his daughter find their lives transformed and any last illusion they might have about Hitler are shattered by the violence of the 'Night of the Long Knives' in the summer of 1934 that established him as supreme dictator. Suffused with the tense atmosphere of the times, and with brilliant portraits of Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and Himmler amongst others, Erik Larson's new book sheds unique light on events as they unfold, resulting in an unforgettable, addictively readable work of narrative history.
In The Garden of Beasts
Eric Larson has penned together an extraordinary existentialist story of real people and events in the Germany of the 1930s.
It is easy to understand death caused by war, but to craft every day events and cast them into a sharpened tip that lays bare the atmosphere and the social conditions that created a monstrosity like Nazi regime in Germany in the 1930s. This book is a work of art and I have yet to read another story with so much of realism.
The story inadvertently also provides lessons of concern regarding some of the events that are unfolding in Pakistan and Afghanistan today. As in Germany, society in theses parts is slowly getting used to violation of human rights, where new atrocities are taken for granted and society and governments keep quiet instead of collectively condemning murder, violation of human rights and state collusion in such matters. The world has to join hands to put an end to such practices, if one wishes peace in the world and a better life for the people.
However, the one in this book that remains a mystery and the author could have usefully delved into is why did the officer core of the German military remain so spineless in the face of so much provocation? But perhaps that may have meant adding another 200 pages to the story.
All in all this is an excellent novel and I come away from it with plenty of admiration for ambassador Dodd; he is the epitome of an ideal foreign service officer. A good man who stood for democratic principles and human values; those who latter followed him in the job and tried to appease Hitler were proven to be wrong.
I have a feeling that If President Roosevelt had thought the problem of Germany through in 1934, there may not have been a 2nd World War. That remains another great if of history.