Thursday, July 07, 2011

Off Topic--- Germany During the Rise of Hitler Through The Eyes of a Virginian

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, Erik Larson, Crown Publishing, black and white photographs, map on end papers, bibliography, notes, 464 pages, notes, $26.00.

In the Garden of Beasts is a vivid but grim portrait of Germany and particularly Berlin in the 1930s. Virginia citizen and University Chicago professor William E. Dodd in 1933 became America’s first ambassador to Hitler’s regime. With his wife, son and his daughter he moved from his Winchester, Virginia farm to the political cauldron of Wiemar-Nazi Germany. Martha, his daughter was quite free with herself; she bedded both Gestapo and Soviet agents.

Ambassador Dodd, political science professor who had studied in Germany before World War One, admirer of Thomas Jefferson, biographer of Woodrow Wilson, Shenandoah Valley gentleman farmer, doesn't fit into semi-disguised fascism of 1930's Germany nor in among the State Department's career administrators. He personally is uncomfortable with the carnal extravagance of the Nazi elite and bureaucratic incest of the State Department. His frugality annoys the Nazis and his fellow State Department colleagues.

Dodd is cautious toward all Nazis and has misgivings towards Hitler’s ambitions. Conversely, Martha is embraces the glamorous parties and the pseudo-intellectualism of Berlin's wealthy elites. Her life in Berlin’s salon society and pursuit of sexual partners among Berlin's elites lead her to dangerous liaisons. Both her Gestapo and Soviet lovers expose her to exhilarating and risky sex during a political revolution fought in Berlin's office buildings and on streets. She even goes on a blind date and spends the evening with Adolf Hitler. William Dodd spends afternoons with Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In the destruction of the Nazi SA during the Night of the Long Knives Martha loses acquaintances. During Kristalnacht, Ambassador Dodd loses friends. With In the Garden of Beasts Erik Larson achieves a suspenseful, intimate story that climaxes with murders and flights. Those who enjoy Larson's Devil In The White City and Thunderstruck will not be disappointed. Those who enjoy Philip Kerr's series featuring Berlin detective Bernie Gunther will be well satisfied.

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