Quantcast
Latest Stories

Review

The burden of the ‘Beasts’

By

Sometimes, fiction falls short of the unexpected twists and turns of real life, and from such occasions are born great books of nonfiction. From such a tradition emerges Erik Larson, a master craftsman of reality’s drama, as seen in his previous books which thrillingly chronicled serial killer activities amid the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (2004’s exquisite “The Devil in the White City”) and the seaborne chase to apprehend a murderer escaping on a ship (2006’s exciting “Thunderstruck”). Now he comes up with something a little different.

For good nonfiction, you need a historic time, for good or ill. It is not so much the people but the year that Larson effectively writes about in his newest book,  “In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin” (Crown Publishers, New York, 2011, 448 pages). In many ways, he is also writing about a lot of people—an entire country—falling into a kind of shared bloodlust.

What Larson writes about in “Beasts” is the shocking yet inexorable rise of the Nazi regime in pre-World War II Germany. In the early 1930s, Germany is not yet the ruthlessly efficient war machine that it is once it invades Poland by decade’s end. Instead, Germany is a dynamic country rising from the ashes of the First World War, marching forward to the beat of a charismatic young leader. The only problem is that leader turns out to be Adolf Hitler, der Fuhrer, mass murderer and one of the greatest villains of history. But though he is a major player in “Beasts,” he is not the focal point of the book.

Instead, “Beasts” focuses on the Dodd family, thrown into the riot of European geo-politics in 1933. The scholarly William E. Dodd is pulled from his comfort zone in Chicago by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to fill the post of US Ambassador to Germany. The frugal, conservative William is not tailor-made for the job, and is soon sending remarkably long letters to Washington about what is going on in Germany. Despite a few diversions along the way, William realizes the Nazis were creating an oppressive atmosphere of anti-Semitism that promised to get out of hand. His missives to Washington are met by snobbery and skepticism.

But it is William’s daughter Martha who is truly at the center of “Beasts.” A free spirit who is also smart and sexually liberated, Martha arrives in Berlin and soon falls for the Nazis’ smoke and mirrors. Her dalliances send Berlin high society all a titter. Attending party after party, she becomes the toast of the town, and is even set up to meet Hitler socially.

But one frightening event after another soon has Martha coming to the terrible realization that not only is something going horribly wrong in Germany, but that the German people were becoming willing accomplices to Hitler’s bloody rise to power and the genocide of the Jews in Germany. All this comes together during the final push that gave Hitler indomitable political and military power, that one night called “Nacht der Langen Messer”—the Night of the Long Knives.

Larson loads up “Beasts” with vivid, vibrant detail. For example, the title of the book is derived from the beautiful park across the ambassador’s residence, a park with the ironic name of Tiergarten, “the garden of beasts.” Aside from the close-up looks at Hitler and Hermann Göring, there are other intriguing persons of interest, most notably the enigmatic head of the Gestapo, Rudolf Diels. But it is Martha who invites the reader along on her own misbegotten journey to the truth and the reader will feel the same exhilaration, bewilderment and shame that Martha feels.

Instead of the pulse-pounding suspense of his last two books, Larson’s “Beasts” has a palpable, creeping sense of danger that starts just out of the corner of your eye but soon encompasses everything else. Well-researched and finely written, Erik Larson’s “In the Garden of Beasts” is a portrait of a nation slowly but steadily turning insane under the sway of madmen geniuses.

Available in paperback at National Book Store.


Follow Us


Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter


Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Books , Erik Larson , Fiction , Lifestyle , Literature



Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement
  1. How to enjoy Buntod
  2. Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  3. Life lessons I want to teach my son
  4. No tourist draw, Malang the croc will remain wild
  5. ‘Wild West’ Masbate’s pristine marine gems
  6. The best flavors of summer in one bite, and more
  7. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  8. Homemade yogurt, bread blended with pizza, even ramen
  9. What has happened to Barrio Fiesta and Singing Cooks & Waiters?
  10. Haneda International Airport: A destination on its own
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. How to enjoy Buntod
  3. Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  4. How Margie Moran-Floirendo keeps her dancer’s body
  5. Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week break?
  6. Miss America: Don’t suspend teen over prom invite
  7. ‘Wild West’ Masbate’s pristine marine gems
  8. Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  9. ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  10. Life lessons I want to teach my son
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Mary Jean Lastimosa is new Miss Universe Philippines
  3. Did Angara ruin Pia Wurtzbach’s chances at Bb. Pilipinas?
  4. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  5. Vinegar test helpful vs cervical cancer
  6. From Jeannie to mom of suicide victim
  7. San Vicente beaches hidden but not for long
  8. Borgy and Georgina are back; others are off–again
  9. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  10. Sen. Angara: I thought Pia Wurtzbach gave a good answer

News

  • Security in place for Obama as police hope for ‘peaceful’ visit
  • Retired SC justice Lorenzo Relova; 98
  • Ligots fight 2nd forfeiture case
  • PH will be partly cloudy in afternoon, evening—Pagasa
  • Ex-COA chief nabbed for plunder
  • Sports

  • Sharapova advances to Stuttgart quarterfinals
  • Galedo caps ride of redemption
  • Beermen, Express dispute second semis slot today
  • Lady Agilas upset Lady Bulldogs in four sets
  • NLEX roars to 7th D-League win
  • Lifestyle

  • ‘Recovered’ Banksy works on display ahead of sale
  • Marinduque: Visiting the ‘palm of the ocean’
  • First at Vatican in 60 years
  • How Jing Monis Salon gave Krissy the pixie
  • Want to be a supermodel? Work on your inner beauty, says Joey Espino
  • Entertainment

  • Paul McCartney to play at Candlestick concert
  • Kristoffer Martin: from thug to gay teen
  • Has Ai Ai fallen deeply with ‘sireno?’
  • California court won’t review Jackson doctor case
  • Cris Villonco on play adapted from different medium
  • Business

  • PAL hailed for ban on shark fin cargo
  • BSP to change tint of P100 bill
  • Nielsen sees car buying boom in the Philippines
  • How author of best-seller exposed ‘one percent’ economic elite
  • Bangko Sentral readies new bank lending rules
  • Technology

  • Cloud strength helps Microsoft earnings top Street
  • Vatican announces hashtag for April 27 canonizations
  • Enrile in Masters of the Universe, Lord of the Rings?
  • Top Traits of Digital Marketers
  • No truth to viral no-visa ‘chronicles’
  • Opinion

  • Editorial Cartoon, April 25, 2014
  • No deal, Janet
  • Like making Al Capone a witness vs his gang
  • MERS-CoV and mothers
  • A graduation story
  • Global Nation

  • Only 4 Etihad passengers not accounted for
  • Abandoned in Malta,15 PH seamen return
  • Senator hopes PH will also get same vow
  • HK victims to get P115M; traders raised money
  • Afghan hospital guard kills 3 US doctors, including Fil-Am pediatrician
    Marketplace