Friday, May 06, 2011

New Next Week: In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson

If In the Garden of Beasts (Crown) had been by any other author, I would have given it a pass. In this second decade of the 21st century, I find I’ve finally had enough true account from Nazi Germany. We know it’s true: horrible things happened and it’s important that we don’t forget. However, it turns out that doesn’t mean I want to be reminded every second and my thirst for knowledge about the era was quenched years ago.

So when I saw the swastika on the cover of In the Garden of Beasts I prepared myself to move on by. And then I saw the name on the cover: Erik Larson. And all bets were off.

You see Larson is a phenomenal writer and his ability with creative and narrative non-fiction is near-legendary. A former Wall Street Journal and Time contributor, Larson is best known as the author of Devil in the White City, his riveting 2003 look at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The thing that set that book apart was Larson’s approach. He weaves a real life murder mystery through the text of his tale and he does it so skillfully, sometimes you really don’t know if you’re reading fact or fiction.

He takes the same approach in In the Garden of Beasts. This time, however, we see early Nazi Germany through the lens of an American family -- the Dodds -- living in Berlin. We watch -- and almost participate -- as Berlin is transformed from a vibrant, glittering international center to a menacing and xenophobic city, where the populace at large is justifying and even supporting behavior that would been unthinkable just a few years before.

If you thought you’d read deeply of Nazi Germany, think again. Larson has here painted a portrait unlike any you’ve ever read. ◊

Aaron Blanton is a contributing editor to January Magazine. He’s currently working on a book based on his experiences as an American living abroad.

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