by Kate Forsyth
Publisher: Random House Australia
Page Count: 512
Release Date: August 3, 2015
Format: Trade Paperback
How got: personal buy via ebay
First attention getter: fairy tale retelling in Nazi Germany... hell yes!
The Grimm Brothers published a beautiful version of the Beauty & the Beast tale called ‘The Singing, Springing Lark' in 1819. It combines the well-known story of a daughter who marries a beast in order to save her father with another key fairy tale motif, the search for the lost bridegroom. In ‘The Singing, Springing Lark,' the daughter grows to love her beast but unwittingly betrays him and he is turned into a dove. She follows the trail of blood and white feathers he leaves behind him for seven years, and, when she loses the trail, seeks help from the sun, the moon, and the four winds. Eventually she battles an evil enchantress and saves her husband, breaking the enchantment and turning him back into a man.
Kate Forsyth retells this German fairy tale as an historical novel set in Germany during the Nazi regime. A young woman marries a Nazi officer in order to save her father, but hates and fears her new husband. Gradually she comes to realize that he is a good man at heart, and part of an underground resistance movement in Berlin called the Red Orchestra. However, her realization comes too late. She has unwittingly betrayed him, and must find some way to rescue him and smuggle him out of the country before he is killed.
The Red Orchestra was a real-life organization in Berlin, made up of artists, writers, diplomats and journalists, who passed on intelligence to the American embassy, distributed leaflets encouraging opposition to Hitler, and helped people in danger from the Nazis to escape the country. They were betrayed in 1942, and many of their number were executed.
The Beast's Garden is a compelling and beautiful love story, filled with drama and intrigue and heartbreak, taking place between 1938 and 1943, in Berlin, Germany.
Star Rating - 5
This book took a while to get into; but once hooked, it was a wild ride to the finish. I went in expecting a fantastic retelling of a beloved fairytale in a time era that fascinates me. What I got was so much more! Drama, resistance, love, and horror all play a large part in the story. There's something for everyone in this Kate Forsyth work.
The characters, by and large, are sympathetic and feel real. Let's just say I fell in love with Leo from the very beginning. He's an honorable and dignified man, from a privileged background, who is faced with horrible decisions and the tragedy of the Nazi hierarchy. Some of the choices he’s forced to make will make your heart bleed; needless to say, the reader will find him very relatable.
I ended up loving Ava as well. It took me a while to warm to her; at times, she could read a bit Mary Sue-ish. However, as tragedy upon tragedy is visited upon her family and friends, I could see her mature and grow as a woman as she made difficult decisions. As the tension ratcheted up with each resistance group and subtle act of defiance Ava involved herself with, the reader can't help but be sucked in chapter by chapter, not wanting to stop for anything.
I have to give special props to the author for her careful attention to historical detail. From the minutest snapshot of daily life in Nazi Germany to the discussion of the various formats of German resistance, the reader gets a real picture of a society under siege from fear and horror. Where a simple word or stray glance could send you to prison and the guillotine, the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, actions Ava and Leo took stand out all the more.
I enjoyed learning about the various formats in which that German resistance took shape. From college students handing out pamphlets to major movements in the military, the reader gets a real sense of how people from all steps of German society contributed to the attempted overthrow of a megalomaniac tyrant. I personally had never heard of some of these movements like the Baum Group nor knew much about such organizations as the Red Orchestra and Canaris' Abwehr. For this alone, the book is worth recommending as historical fiction done right.
Yet also impressing me was the author’s very careful attention to the Holocaust details as they took place in, and impacted the community of, Jewish Berlin. So many times in the past I've seen authors summarize or skim over small details to hurry the story along. When one even gets the big details of such a tragic event wrong, I feel like history is being dealt an injustice. And yes I know, this is only historical fiction and not a documentary on the Holocaust, but I feel writing such an event and using it as a backdrop or device in the story requires respect.
For what areas use Holocaust aspects, I felt the author did this. From the intimate horrors of Kristallnacht and how it impacted one particular family to the tiny details of deteriorating daily life of the Berlin’s Jews leading up to the last big round up of 1943, the reader gets a real sense of the pain and tragedy experienced during this event. The author even went so far as to give hints of the fate of one of the first transports sent to Riga in November of 1941 from Berlin, a detail so small even some devoted Holocaust scholars might not know it. That's attention to detail, folks!
What started out as just an intriguing idea of a fairytale retold in Nazi Germany quickly grew into something else entirely. I fell in love with the characters the story was told through; both leads are empathetic and realistic, even if Ava could come off as too perfect in the beginning. However, what really drew my love and respect was the author’s attention to the slightest detail, respect for the material, and the suspenseful tale she told of tragedy, survival, and love. This was my introduction to Kate Forsyth, and I find it sets a high bar for me when it comes to her writing. I feel very comfortable recommending this book to anyone, whether you enjoy historical fiction, fairytale retellings, or just the tale of a girl trying to survive and build a life in a world gone mad.