Or, Join Me In My Depression, Vol. 2.
WHAT I READ:
In The Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin (Erik Larson).
On a scale of 1 to 5 telegrams, I give this 4 Marthas.
As part of my pledge to read more deeply this year, I challenged myself to read more nonfiction than I have in previous years. Already I’ve tackled Strangers In Their Own Land (fuller review coming soon), and this month I cracked open In The Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin (Erik Larson). I’m not quite sure why I put it on my to-read this considering it was published in 2011, but surely it was on one of those “Read these to learn more about living in an autocracy” listsicles that have been going around recently.
I’ve read Larson before – Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania – and thoroughly enjoyed his narrative nonfiction writing style. (He’s also the author of the tremendous popular Devil In The White City). This book, as the lengthy title suggests, takes a magnifying glass to the experience of U.S. Ambassador to Germany, William Dodd, as he and his family move to Berlin for his posting in 1933.
I know a moderate amount about that period in time, but certainly have not revisited the topic of Nazi Germany as our new regime has taken hold. Larson narrows in on the experiences of the Dodd family mostly in 1933-1934 (Dodd was in his position until 1937, when he was effectively forced out by Roosevelt and the State Department due to Dodd’s loud belief that the Nazi Germany was extremely dangerous to European stability. WHAT AN IDIOT, FIRE HIM).
Throughout most of the book, there’s just this feeling of uneasiness. Until the summer of 1934 and the Night of the Long Knives (which I had never heard about before this book), there’s some unsettling instances (American tourists being beaten for not doing the Heil at a passing parade, for example), but even Dodd’s own family is somewhat amenable to the Nazi party and exhibit their own anti-Antisemitism. (And boy, is anti-Antisemitism rife in this book). But, it covers the American perspectives – both those wishing to remain isolationist and those who were staunchly anti-Nazi from the start – in this time period leading up to Hitler’s invasion of Poland and the launching of WW2.
Martha Dodd is the other “main character” in this book, and is she ever a character. The 20-something daughter of Dodd, she sweeps through Berlin taking on numerous – and highly-placed – lovers and even is introduced as a potential love interest to Hitler at one point. (She ends up become a Soviet spy, naturally). I loved learning more about her story, too.
In all, this book is extremely easy-to-read, non-Gifable due to its serious subject matter, and made me want to read more Larson and think more about how my own country may look in 60 years.