26 December 2015
Kate Forsyth: The Beast's Garden
My wife read this book and recommended that I should read it because I have read a lot of historical fiction about Nazi Germany. I am glad that it did because it gave a different perspective to most of the books I have read about that era. This time, the perspective is seen through the eyes of Eva Falkenhorst, an Aryan German woman whose closest family friends are Rupert and Jetta who are Jewish.
In November 1938, the Nazis made a massive, coordinated attack on Jews throughout the German Reich, now known as Kristallnacht or The Night of Broken Glass. On that night when she finds herself in the middle of the trouble Eva meets and is helped by a handsome young Nazi officer, Leo von Lowenstein who works for Admiral Canaris, chief of the Abwher, the German intelligence service. Despite his Nazi credentials, Eva is immediately attracted to him and the attraction is mutual. Although they have very different backgrounds and beliefs they fall in love and when things get hard for the Falkenhorst's and their Jewish friends, Eva agrees to marry Leo.
Then follows a bit of a fairy tale about how Eva can love and live with a Nazi while helping her Jewish friends and working with the Berlin underground resistance. Rupert is arrested and sent to a concentration camp and Jetta lives in hiding to save her life. Leo is deeply disturbed with what he sees in Poland and with his knowledge of into what is happening. He slowly gets involved in dangerous plots to assassinate Hitler.
As the war progresses Berlin is bombed into ruins and the occupants, including Eva, live a hand-to-mouth existence. The Gestapo relentlessly hunt down the remaining Jews in Berlin for transport to elimination camps and ruthlessly track and eliminate any resistance. Eva's life and eventually Leo's hangs in the balance.
This book is essentially a romance, with a backdrop of violence, cruelty, war and a fight for survival. It gives an interesting and sometimes very different view of life in Germany during the Nazi's and the struggles of the German people to survive the impact of war.
I enjoyed the book despite some credibility problems, especially towards the finale and in the aftermath. Readers should bear in mind that the story is loosely based on the Grimm Brothers' "Beauty and the Beast". Fairy tales are the basis of most of the Australian author Kate Forsythe's other works - she has a doctorate in fairy tale studies.
My wife gave this book 5 stars. I was more cautious but gave it 4.5 stars because of the different slant it gave to an era that has been covered by so many other novels and war stories.