Sunday, May 29, 2011

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

Larson writes Non-Fiction at its best and in his latest book In the Garden of Beasts he takes us into Pre War Germany as seen by Ambassador William Dodd and his family who in 1933 at the behest of Franklin D Roosevelt find themselves living in a Germany that in a devious and conniving manner is marching towards a war that would not start for another 6 years.
Dood a Professor from Chicago whose life and experiences fall well out of those who normally fill these Offices is none the less a very canny man who is unafraid to speak his mind and confront the dawning horror and violence that marks the Nazi regime, the Jewish people start to be marked and persecuted,the press is a tool of censorship and Nazi propaganda, ordinary Americans are attacked in the street beaten senseless and flayed and yet despite Dodds repeated warnings,the Administrations reactions are lukewarm at best, Dodd realises that Hitlers professions of wanting peace are a misleading at best,his intention is tobuy arming time and not motivated by a desire to avoid engaging in conflict. Dodds summation of Hitler, Himmler,Goring and prove with time to be spot on and eventually a bloodbath ensues that changes the world for ever.
Dodds daughter Martha is a very flamboyant character who enjoys the cafe society and social whirl that Berlin offers, she indulges herself in numerous flirtations and affairs but fails to arouse anything but cursory interest from Hitler himself, Dodds wife and son are secondary characters who fail to fully engage the reader but there are plenty of others who do.
This book covers the 1st year of Dodds Ambassadorship and it paints a vivid portrait of a time where beauty still existed but with a dreadful undercurrent of fear, where friends became foes simply to survive, where suicide was often a valid option and where choices, chances and survival often depended on the flip of a coin, who you knew and whether or not you could change your ancestorship,vicious in fighting was the norm, power could slip in an instant and for a whole generation of Jewish people death became an all encompassing reality.
A book that is well written,moving,touching and horrifying all wrapped up with an understanding of human nature and motivation that left me stunned.

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