Sunday, June 19, 2011

In The Garden Of Beasts

The Book: In The Garden of Beasts

The Author: Erik Larson

The Dealio: As is his custom, Larson takes a non-fictional subject and casts a light on it. A light which seems to say, 'Listen, folks. I could not make this stuff up!' This time, his stompin' ground is Berlin in 1933. There is a new sheriff (actually, ambassador) in town, and his name is William Dodd. William is an odd fit: not part of the Harvard-bred 'Pretty Good Club', he was not even Roosevelt's third or fourth pick for the job. A scholar, writer and lecturer, Dodd was a man who valued the economies of life and struck a sombre chord with the decadent and indulgent social elite of '30's Germany. Along with his (mostly silent, at least in this telling) wife Marty, carefree, spoiled and scandalously unfettered daughter, Martha, and son, Bill, they hit Germany at about the same time as Hitler's rise to power. The entire family seemed, at first, to look upon Hitler's rise as a great step forward for Germany: all that building, all those fresh-scrubbed youth, healthy and jolly and so well-organised! But, a more ominous picture begins to emerge, as incidents of attacks on Americans and Germans alike are reported- for infractions ranging from failure to tender the Hitler salute, to being snatched up, off the street for 'protective custody'. Martha, alone, soars above the common fray, disinclined to see any threats from the Nazis, even sashaying around the German countryside with the first head of the Gestapo. But her father soon begins a series of frantic calls-to-action by his fellow ambassadors to Germany, and the State Dept back home. Naturally, everyone of weight seems to resent his Cassandra cries, and ignores him, redirecting his attention back towards the more important matters- such as obtaining payback for the various loans extended to Germany after WWI. Then, Dodd's predictions begin to turn into actual threats, serious enough that they will drag the US- and most of the rest of the world- into war. Again.

The Grading Session: 4.41 pengies out of 5. I was absolutely crazy for Larson's previous books, which I devoured at the speed of sound. I was so excited to get this latest, but wound up...disappointed. Harumph. I felt very little empathy for the major players in the story, true. But the greater sin, for me, was that the material was very repetitious, and could have used a great red pencil wielded by someone with a sense for streamlining. I also did not care for the long, drawn-out post-script. It was obvious to me that the State Dept career elite were anti-Dodd from the git-go, so why the need to harp on their reactions to his economies and persistent cries for action? Got it after the first 10 mentions. If the idea was for me to share in Dodd's frustration...mission accomplished. But, as I (often) say: an okay book by a really good writer is still worth the investment of time. Your mileage may differ.

Lessons Learned: First: you can't hit it out of the park every time at bat. Next: there are always those who are blind in the face of incontestable evidence. And, finally, this: Jeffrey Deaver (yay!) wrote a fictional book- Garden of Beasts, in 2004, which features an American 'button man' sent to Germany in the '30's to neutralise (or, at the very least, minimise) the Nazi threat. And I have ordered it. So, we can do the taste test right here...maybe.

1 comment:

  1. I abouslutely enjoyed this book.I had read 3 of Mr.Larson previous works and was looking forward to reading this one.You would think that there wasnt much more than what has been written about Nazi Germany.Well you would be wrong on that one.Erik is a top notch writer and makes even an ambassador interesting.But the joy of this book has to be the daughter.She is totally nuts and seemed to be way ahead of her time.Whether that is good or not is up to the reader.The anti-semitism that ran through our own government was shameful to say the least.I will never understand why there is so much hatred in the world towards one another.Well done,Mr.Larson.