A few days ago, I finished reading “In the Garden of Beasts.”
A while back, my husband Tim and I went to hear the author, Erik Larson, give a talk and read from the book at Third Place Books. We both found it very interesting. Consequently, I put in a book request at the library, and picked it up about two or three weeks ago.
As the author intended, it provides an unusual perspective on that period of 20th-century history. Obviously, now we know the evil that was Hitler and the Nazis. But in his book, Larson succeeds in imparting a sense of how the people and politicians of other nations viewed the situation at that time. A few people saw where things were heading, but many others thought that the political situation in Germany while Hitler was still only the chancellor, before President Hindenburg died, was too unstable to last. Also, the prevalent attitude was that what occurred in Germany was an internal matter to be dealt with by the Germans without outside interference.
The title of the book has both literal and metaphorical meanings. The U.S. embassy and the ambassador's home were both in the vicinity of the Tiergarten, a park in Berlin, which translates to "Animal Garden" in English. But tellingly, the political environment that the U.S. ambassador and his family, around whom the narrative revolves, found themselves could also be described as a garden of beasts.