Monday, January 30, 2012

In the Garden of Beasts

In the Garden of Beasts. Erik Larson. 2011. Crown. 464 pages.

Once, at the dawn of a very dark time, an American father and daughter found themselves suddenly transported from their snug home in Chicago to the heart of Hitler's Berlin.

In the Garden of Beasts is nonfiction. It is a biography of the Dodd family--primarily of William Dodd, the U.S. Ambassador to Berlin, and his daughter, Martha. The book focuses--a bit unevenly--on the four and a half years the family lived (and served) in Berlin, 1933-1938. (The author meant the narration to focus more on the beginning than the middle and the end.) It's an account that is both personal and political. The book does deal with politics--American, Nazi, Soviet--during this time period. But it is also personal. For the most part, it gets personal with the daughter's love life. Much focuses on her friendships and relationships with various men--both in the U.S. and Germany. Trying to keep track of who she was seeing at any one time was quite confusing. (I eventually gave up.)

I'm sure the book is meant to accomplish many things with readers--in addition to informing and/or entertaining. But. For me, I saw it as highlighting human frustration. Being ambassador was not a grand adventure. Trying to please even a handful of men from each country proved absolutely impossible. There were so many people saying do this, don't do that, say this, don't say that. So many people judging him, criticizing him, and in some cases, wanting him to fail. He was supposed to tell the truth, but, at the same time he was supposed to be all about peace, peace, peace. He was supposed to tell the truth, but not at the cost of offending anyone. He was supposed to tell the truth, but not necessarily the unpleasant truth.

I'm not exactly sure how I feel about Martha's story in all this. Was it necessary to include every little detail? Were we supposed to like her? to sympathize with her? I'm not sure I can do either. The way she jumped in and out of relationships, the way she manipulated men, well, it bothered me. The way she would resort to trying to make every man she was involved with jealous by seeing someone else. Perhaps she grew out of her immaturity. I don't know.

I didn't love In the Garden of Beasts. I'm glad I read it. I was interested in some of the details included in this one. But for me it was a little too long.

Read In the Garden of Beasts

  • If you're looking to read nonfiction about this time period--Germany in the 1930s
  • If you're looking to read biographies of American Ambassadors
  • If you're interested/fascinated by politics

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Kailana 10:39 AM  

I have books by Larson on my TBR pile, but have never actually read him before. One day!

Unknown 5:29 PM  

It sounded like an interesting read. I really like the fact that your add the Read if portion. It's very helpful.

Kate Scott 6:42 PM  

I haven't had the chance to read this one, but my dad did and thought that too much space was given to Martha's story. I'm thinking I'll pass this one over.

Fall Into Books 7:02 PM  

Man, I love Erik Larson because of Devil in the White City, and I'm a Chicagoan. Terrific story. I'll read this one some day, but I won't rush out and get it. I read enough nonfiction in school. I rarely want to read it when I'm relaxing anymore, haha. Great review though! :D

Anna 10:40 AM  

I've added your review to War Through the Generations.

I'm really looking forward to reading this one, but my expectations have been lowered (thankfully) by reading a lot of reviews like yours where the readers liked it but didn't love it. Maybe they thought Martha's story would attract people who don't want too much politics, banking on the whole sex sells idea. I don't know.

Post a Comment

I'm always happy to hear from you! To help fight spam, comment moderation has been set up for posts older than two days. Feel free to ask me questions or ask for recommendations!

Review Policy

I am interested in reviewing books and audio books. This blog focuses on books written for middle grade on up (essentially 10 to a 110). I review middle grade fiction and young adult fiction (aka tween and teen).

I also review adult books.

I read in a variety of genres including realistic fiction, historical fiction, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, literary fiction, and chick lit. (I've read one western to date.)

I read a few poetry books, a few short story collections, a few graphic novels, a few nonfiction books.

I am especially fond of:

  • Regency romances (including Austen prequels/sequels)
  • Historical fiction set in the Tudor dynasty
  • Historical fiction and nonfiction set during World War II
  • Jewish fiction/nonfiction
  • dystopias
  • apocalyptic fiction
  • science fiction (especially if it involves time travel and alternate realities)
  • fantasy
  • multicultural books and international books

I am not a fan of:

  • sports books
  • horse books
  • dog books if the dog dies (same goes with most pets actually except maybe fish)
  • westerns (if it's a pioneer story with women and children, then maybe)
  • extremely violent books with blood, blood, and more blood

I am more interested in strong characters, well-written, fleshed-out, human characters. Plot is secondary to me in a way. I have to care about the characters in order to care about the plot. That being said, compelling storytelling is something that I love. I love to become absorbed in what I'm reading.

If you're interested in sending me a review copy of your book, I'm happy to hear from you. Email me at laney_po AT yahoo DOT com.

You should know several things before you contact me:

1) I do not guarantee a review of your book. I am just agreeing to consider it for review.
2) I give all books at least fifty pages.
3) I am not promising anyone (author or publisher) a positive review in exchange for a review copy. That's not how I work.
4) In all of my reviews I strive for honesty. My reviews are my opinions--so yes, they are subjective--you should know my blog will feature both negative and positive reviews.
5) I do not guarantee that I will get to your book immediately. I've got so many books I'm trying to read and review, I can't promise to get to any one book in a given time frame.
6) Emailing me every other week to see if I've read your book won't help me get to it any faster. Though if you want to email me to check and see if it arrived safely, then that's fine!

Authors, publishers. I am interested in interviewing authors and participating in blog tours. (All I ask is that I receive a review copy of the author's latest book beforehand so the interview will be productive. If the book is part of a series, I'd like to review the whole series.) Contact me if you're interested.

Unique Visitors and Google PR Rank

Free PageRank Checker

2018 Kitty Lit Challenge

2018 Kitty Lit Challenge
Link to sign-up page

Join the Victorian Reading Challenge

Join the Victorian Reading Challenge
Linked to sign up page

Family Tree Reading Challenge

Family Tree Reading Challenge
Link to sign-up page

2018 Share-a-Tea Challenge

2018 Share-a-Tea Challenge
Linked To Sign Up Page

2018 Charity Challenge (Sign Up)

2018 Good Rule Reading Challenge

2018 Good Rule Reading Challenge
Link to sign up page

2018 Picture Book Challenge

2018 Picture Book Challenge
Link to sign-up page

Join the 2018 Middle Grade Reading Challenge

Join the 2018 Middle Grade Reading Challenge
click image to go to sign up post

Good Rules Cheat List

Board books and picture books = new is anything published after 2013
Early readers and chapter books = new is anything published after 2013
Contemporary (general/realistic) = new is anything published after 2007
Speculative fiction (sci-fi/fantasy = new is anything published after 2007
Classics = anything published before 1968
Historical fiction = new is anything published after 2007
Mysteries = new is anything published after 1988
Nonfiction = new is anything published after 2007
Christian books = new is anything published after 2000
Bibles = new is anything published after 1989

My Blog List

(Old) Challenge Participants

Becky's Hosting These Challenges

100 Books Project: Fill in the Gaps

Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

  © Blogger template Newspaper III by 2008

Back to TOP