Monday, March 7, 2016

3/50: In the Garden of Beasts

Really had trouble putting this one down once I started it. Erik Larson is a compelling storyteller, to say the least. (I keep coming back to one description of a senior Nazi with cheekbones so high and prominent it was like he had golf balls under his skin.) As histories go, this is quite novelistic; it makes no pretense of objectivity and it's following a tiny group of people—one could call them characters, even though they're real-life figures—caught in much larger events.

I think several people in this project have read In the Garden of Beasts already, but for the sake of those who haven't, here's a quick capsule description: This follows the lives of the American ambassador to Berlin and his family, particularly his daughter, in the years of the Nazi ascendancy. It discusses the denial many people felt in the early days of Hitler's power, the way they were convinced that the more level-headed party members would prevail, even as acts of violence became impossible to ignore. It also documents the American anti-Semitism that prevented people in our government from taking actions that might have saved lives; even the ambassador's daughter is at first enthralled by the Nazis and has a romantic dalliance with at least one.

What's really unsettling about this book, though, is reading it at the same time that the news is showing people heil-ing at Trump rallies. There are times when history refuses to stay as firmly in the past as one might wish, and instead becomes (to paraphrase Stephen Dedalus) the nightmare from which we are trying to awake.

1 comment:

  1. Erik Larson blew me away with Devil in the White City and this description makes me excited to pick up another one of his works!