In the Garden of Beasts: Part 6 to the End

October 19, 2012 | By | Comments (10)

Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts

Hello, Bookies! We’ve come to the end—did your opinions about anyone/anything change in this final section? I really gained a lot of respect for Dodd, particularly when he returns to the U.S. and continues to speak out against Hitler and the Nazis, trying to warn the world about Germany’s plans for domination. It seems like he was the lone voice of reason and that if people had only listened to him and stepped in sooner, war may have been avoided. Like Larson, I also thought Der Angriff’s front-page article vilifying Dodd was odd. All along, the Nazis had mocked the ambassador and called him insignificant—so why attack him years later when he’s deathly ill? Clearly, he made more of an impact than they were willing to admit. Did your opinion of Dodd change at all during the course of the book?

I was glad that many praised Dodd after his death and acknowledged that he was right about a lot things. Throughout the whole book, I just felt like he was in a terrible position, facing opposition both abroad and at home and unable (and oftentimes unwilling, and rightly so) to make everyone happy.  I’m glad he stuck to his principles and continued speaking up for what he believed in, even after his ambassadorship. In fact, once he was no longer representing the U.S. government he was free to say and do whatever he liked, which I’m sure was a huge relief to him. It’s ironic that his position allowed him to witness what was truly going on in Germany, but it was also his position that prevented him from openly condemning it. Did you feel sympathy for Dodd? Do you think that ultimately he was a good ambassador? Do you think someone else could have a done a better job? I feel like if he had played by the rules a little more—been more social, refrained from criticizing the Pretty Good Club and their spendy ways, and fallen more in line with the superficial aspects of the job, he wouldn’t have alienated his own colleagues and they might have been more willing to listen to him. But that’s a huge “might.” Dodd is who he is, and I can’t fault him for that.

I felt less sympathy for Martha by the end of the book. I wasn’t really surprised that Boris may have had a Juliet #1 (I always suspected he was using her—as an operative for Soviet intelligence, how could he not have factored her unique position into their relationship?). She seemed to get over him pretty quickly, though, with a fast marriage to a conveniently rich man. It’s pretty interesting that she actually did become a spy, though I feel like she did it for the adventure and not because of her passion for the Soviet cause. As someone who had always done as she pleased without regard to how it would reflect on her family and her country, it seems almost fitting that her country eventually turned its back on her. Did you feel badly for Martha at the end of the book, or did you feel like she got what she deserved?

Thanks for reading and commenting along with me, it’s always fun to hear everyone’s opinions and thoughts. And I have some good news—Erik Larson has very graciously agreed to answer questions about the book here on our blog, so if you have any burning ones (and I know you do), post them below by EOD next Friday, October 26. Here’s my question: We hear very little about Mrs. Dodd and Bill in the story. While I understand that you wanted to keep the narrative focused on Dodd and Martha, what were Mom and son like? Did you have access to a lot of their writing?