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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 Sometimes the greatest horror is the recollection of the moment you first realized that not only was danger present, but that you were in its grasp. The subtle feeling of the steering wheel no longer responding to your turning hands, realizing the faintness you feel is created by the blood loss from your wound, and the thought, as the room fills with smoke, that fire may separate you from the remainder of your life are all some of the more mundane terror shared by thousands each day. In the Garden of the Beasts by Erik Larsen is a look at the awakening of the world to the first growls of Nazi Germany as they were heard by US Ambassador to Germany William Dodd and his family from 1933 to 1937. The Dodd family, especially daughter Martha, appear oblivious to the evil in their midst, and sadly shared a milder, less lethal version of the anti-Semitism Hitler would brew into genocide. For those who cling to the fantasy that America was somehow unaware of the nightmare of “the final solution” until 1945, there is nowhere for that fantasy to remain hidden. The fear of the Dodd’s as they returned to Berlin after the Nacht der langen Messer or Night of Long Knives finding that so many of their friends and acquaintances have been murdered is quite real in Larsen’s words. The imagined gasp they must have uttered in that surreal moment is almost audible. That faint sound offers the reader the most fleeting moment to take cover behind the lie that it was something only of that time and that place. I was captured by the story, and how my limited knowledge of this history was made full. The element of suspense was heightened by knowing full well what was coming, and wondering the response of those affected. There was also the very real disappointment in the response of the Dodd’s, the United States, and the world. As I finished the book, my eye caught a certificate, of which I am quite proud, stating that I am connected to those who came to this land prior to it being called Tennessee. And I recalled a question of one of my children if this meant our family participated in the Cherokee’s trail of tears. This is the moment of fear Erik Larsen’s book brought me to. The reminder that this was not about a place or a time, but rather about a part of our human nature that from time to time we somehow manage to deny exists. It does.