Mar 17, 2012
In the Garden of the Beasts, Book Review
Larson soon introduces one of the most interesting characters of the book, Dodd's intelligent, beautiful and flirtatious daughter Martha. A polar opposite of her bookish father. She is a recent divorcee and finds herself liberated in the waning, unrestricted Weimar culture of Berlin. She sleeps with many Nazi officials, including Rudolph Diels, the scarred, former head of the Gestapo who is portrayed as a surprisingly sympathetic character. But Martha find a soul mate in the doomed Soviet embassy official Boris Winogradov (most any Soviet official can be refered to as doomed before Stalin's purges). Some of Larson's best writing revolves around their relationship. Martha eventually becomes a communist and a minor spy for the Soviet Union. Another strength of the book is the author's depiction of the Nazi leaders, especially Hermann Goring who is described as the "hind end of an elephant." Dodd and his family connect with the corpulent and congenial leader and attend some of his lavish parties, including one where he reveals his plan, alongside an unresponsive bison, to open a game park of archaic German animals, which was one of the Nazi's ridiculous themes of Aryan mythologizing.
The story reaches a crescendo and its climax with Hitler's murderous rampage against his rivals in the SA now known as the "Night of the Long Knives". This reveals the Nazis as the violent thugs that they actually were and Dodd begins a crusade to warn the US and world, which unfortunately falls on deaf ears to the detriment of all but especially the European Jews. Although the book is not as seminal as his The Devil in the White City, Larson deftly wields the slow build up to this climax and shows again that he is a masterful storyteller.