Some time ago, maybe March or April (I’ve forgotten) I reserved a book from the Library. I’d seen the title somewhere — I’ve forgotten that now, too. I’m thinking maybe PowerLine Blog. They often do reviews of current books, and I recall thinking this book might be interesting. It’s a #1 bestseller from this year, and had a gazillion holds on it, which is why I didn’t get it until last week.
It’s called In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson, and it’s about an American family in Hitler’s Berlin. I thought it was fiction, and by the time I got the notice that it had arrived at the library and was waiting for me to pick it up, I had no idea why I’d even reserved it. Did I really have time to read it? After all, I’ve just come to the conclusion that I need to start pruning things out of my slate of activities to give more time to writing. Well I’d give it a look at least.
Shortly after that notice arrived came another telling me the Brad Thor novel I’d reserved had also arrived. I’d just finished rereading The Last Patriot (my previously posted review of it is here) and was eager to start the next one in the series. I figured that would likely be the first of the two books I’d read. So Friday I picked up both of them around lunch time.
Also at this time, as many of you know, I’m in the middle of writing a novel about an embassy and Ambassadors to an evil empire. Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if I can really make this analogy work, and have been seeking the Lord’s counsel on this matter repeatedly. I’ve also been listening to Pastor John Farley’s series on discernment in the spiritual life, particularly about how people and organizations who are energized by evil are compelled to hide it, thus they do everything they can to appear good, right down to being in the church itself. The Bible says they may even come as pastors (disguised as “ministers of righteousness”) teaching false doctrine to the unwary (2 Co 11). It’s been a fascinating study.
Anyway, I got home with my books and started looking at In the Garden of Beasts.
It’s not fiction, it’s nonfiction that reads like fiction. So says the material on the cover flaps. It’s about a real man and his daughter. The man, William E. Dodd becomes America’s first AMBASSADOR(!) to Hitler, “in a year that proved to be a turning point in history!” What? An ambassador? Did I know this when I reserved it? I might have, but I had completely forgotten if I had.
He’s there with his wife, son and 24-year-old daughter Martha. The tale is told from his and his daughter’s perspectives. It’s a story about an ambassador and embassies and all the things they do. I found out in the very first chapter that he was born October 21, 1869. The date I had picked up the book and was examining it? Friday, October 21, 2011. Weird.
It’s about “Hitler’s ascent from chancellor to absolute tyrant.” Which is more or less the story path my villain is to take in Sky.
More… the prologue from the author reads like an illustration of recent Bible lessons. Here’s an excerpt:
I have always wondered what it would have been like for an outsider to have witnessed firsthand the gathering dark of Hitler’s rule. How did the city look, what did one hear, see, and smell, and how did diplomats and other visitors interpret the events occurring around them? Hindsight tells us that during that fragile time, the course of history could so easily have changed. Why, then, did no one change it? Why did it take so long to recognize the real danger posed by Hitler and his regime?
Every morning [my two main protagonists] moved through a city hung with immense banners of red, white and black; they sat at the same outdoor cafés as did the lean, black-suited members of Hitler’s SS, and now and then they also caught sight of Hitler himself… But they also walked each day past homes with balconies lush with red geraniums; they shopped in the city’s vast department stores, held tea parties, and breathed deep the spring fragrances of the Tiergarten, Berlin’s main park. They knew Goebbels and Göring as social acquaintances with whom they dined, danced and joked — until, as their first year reached its end, an event occurred that proved to be one of the most significant in revealing the true character of Hitler…
There are no heroes here… but there are glimmers of heroism and people who behave with unexpected grace. Always there is nuance, albeit sometimes of a disturbing nature. That’s the trouble with nonfiction. One has to put aside what we all know — now — to be true, and try instead to accompany my two innocents through the world as they experienced it.
These are complicated people moving through a complicated time, before the monsters declared their true nature. “
Could it be any clearer that I was supposed to read this book?
After looking through it and reading a couple of chapters and marveling at all the above, I picked up the Brad Thor book, just for a peek. This is a dangerous practice that all too often leads to six or seven hour reading marathons as I delude myself with the assurance that I’ll read just one more chapter and then I’ll put it down. Besides, I’d already read its first chapter at the end of the Thor book I’d just finished and I wanted to find out… Wait… what’s this after page 6? Someone’s ripped out page 7/8? And here’s another: page 51/52, also missing. And 53/54 practically gone as well. I could just go ahead and read it, but I’ll be frank. I want to read ALL the pages of the book as it was written and the very idea of just skipping over them grates.
Better to bring it back and get a new one and not let someone else get this rude surprise. So I took the Thor book back, the person at the library threw it away, took it out of their catalogue and reserved a new book for me. Temptation removed. “Read this one now,” God says to me, in reference to In the Garden of Beasts.
Very well then. I will. And I have started it. It is fascinating, definitely “addictively readable.” I’m learning many things. One that stood out: they didn’t call it a swastika at the embassy, but the Hakenkreuz or “broken cross.”