In the Garden of Beasts: Parts 4 and 5

October 12, 2012 | By | Comments (5)

Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts

In the next few chapters, we really see tensions between Germany and the U.S. grow stronger as Hitler’s power intensifies and poor Ambassador Dodd is once again caught in the middle. We also see how life in Germany is spinning out of control: the controversial Reichstag arson trial,  increasing discrimination against Jews, and escalating surveillance/spying and paranoia among the German people.

That was a great last line to close out Part 3 (“Martha, you are the woman!”), but unfortunately (as expected) nothing very interesting comes out of Martha and Hitler’s brief and awkward encounter. However, Martha continues to fascinate me. Her developing relationship with Boris is an interesting twist. Do you think their feelings for each other are genuine, or are they more attracted to the foreignness of each other and the underlying taboo of their relationship? We’ve already learned that Boris is a spy…could he be using Martha?

Poulette’s death was a sad moment in the book, though I couldn’t help but wonder if she had considered other options, like leaving the country. I also wondered how the Nazis would have discovered she had Jewish ancestry. Perhaps I missed this explanation, but it wasn’t clear to me how the Nazis would have been able to discern who was Jewish and who wasn’t when apparently thousands of Germans didn’t even know they had Jewish relatives until they researched their history. Couldn’t Poulette have kept this a secret?

I’m amazed by President Hindenburg’s obliviousness to Hitler’s devious plots and inflammatory actions. Though it seems like he could possibly be the one force to rein in the chancellor, he appears to back Hitler 100 percent and offers no criticism or resistance. Is he really that clueless or in denial? Is he afraid of Hitler or—since his health is failing—does he just not care anymore?

The conversation between Hitler and Dodd was fascinating, especially when they were discussing the “Jewish problem.” Dodd seemed to agree with Hitler that the Jews could be problematic, even in the U.S., and proposed peaceful ways Germany could handle the situation. Do you think Dodd was just trying to appease Hitler by agreeing with his views about the Jews, or do you think he really believed what he was saying?

I was also surprised that Dodd chose to go on leave for 2 months, leaving his family on their own in Berlin. Considering the Dodds thought their house was bugged, their servants were spies, and that they always felt like they were being watched, it didn’t seem wise for Dodd to leave the country and essentially abandon his family. Who knows what could have happened during those 2 months?

For next Friday, we’ll be finishing up the rest of the book. Share your thoughts, comments, questions so far—looking forward to see how the rest of it plays out, and what becomes of the Dodds.

Happy reading,