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In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin - Erik Larson Since I'd heard such great things about Larson's writing, I was a little disappointed that the story line delivered less of a punch than I would have expected from characters living in the early days of Hitler's Germany. The book follows a history professor named William Dodd and his family as he settles into the American ambassadorship role in Germany.

The story starts off dryly with interesting bits here and there. Dodd's daughter, Martha, provides most of the interest as she tackles quite a great deal of bedroom diplomacy with men from every political spectrum from Nazi to Communist. She seems easily taken with new ideas, but she also becomes disenchanted with quite a few along the way. My favorite of all her suitors, however, is the Russian-born Boris Vinogradov. He seems to have a quiet wisdom that affects her positively and calms her whims of fancy. One conversation with Boris that sticks with me is when Martha's bragging that her ancestors were slave owners and Boris is appalled that someone would find owning another human being to be a source of pride. Boris is one of those sources of good influence that changes a person's life. Of course, the flippant Martha hurts him again and again for fun.

The other part of this story that will stick with me is the quiet fear that everyone felt that made them pretend that all was well and that Hitler was wonderful. I've often wondered how it was that people could have sat back and let Hitler rise to power and how he could have such ardent followers. But looking through this lens, you see that people were afraid for their lives and the lives of their family members. They dared not speak out, they left the country, or they did as they were told and praised their leader and country for their own survival. And after a mass shooting of so-called "traitors" in his own ranks, those who weren't terrified for their lives at first, quickly made up their minds how they were going to act.

Anyhow, I feel a little more connected to the history of the time having read it, but I still fell a little disappointed that it had less meat to the story than it did. I think Larson should have cast his net a little wider for more interest rather than depending on Martha's multitude of trysts to liven it up.