Thursday, September 15, 2011

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

What sad, sad circumstances led us to congregate at the Fall Chateau last week instead of a cozy bungalow in Venice Beach:  our beloved Mademoiselle rentre au pays, or in case El Jefe butchered that, she is, alas, returning to France.  This is far worse than Blondie moving to Sun Valley.  It's just too damn far!  La Mademoiselle has added so much fun and zest to our little group over the years, it will not be the same without her.  She will always be welcome to send in her extreme votes and feisty commentary from abroad.  Not to mention... Book Club field trip, anyone?!

Who knew that we were in for an impromptu jewelry show?  All the better way to spend our time (and money) while catching up on the month's news and chowing down on a veritable feast of Italian deliciousness:  prosciutto with melon, and burrata with tomato and basil to pile on top of pizza dough foccacia.  It was the perfect lead-in to our dinner of spaghetti carbonara and an arugula salad, followed by fresh fruit topped with a ricotta sauce for dessert.  We definitely were more Mussolini than Hitler on the dinner front, but El Jefe would pick pasta over bratwurst any day.  Lotta carbs.

Eric Larson's In the Garden of Beasts scored about a 7, with quite a few people who didn't finish the book in time.  Needless to say this was not light, summer reading.  The story of William Dodd, the U.S. ambassador to Germany during the first year of Hitler's chancellorship, and Dodd's party-loving daughter Martha was disappointing to some who expected more mystery, intrigue and merdher a la Devil in the White City.  Apparently, the 85 people (at a minimum!) whom Hitler ordered killed on the "Night of the Long Knives" did not constitute an impressive death toll, knowing that monster's capabilities.  There definitely were several chapters (and chapter titles) that led the reader to think that a big reveal was waiting a just a few pages ahead, but no payoff was delivered:  merely another correspondence between Dodd and someone in the state department back home about Germany's debt to American bankers, or a description of a lover's spat between Martha and one of her many paramours.  The group generally also found both Dodds, father and daughter, to be unlikeable.  William Dodd was an overly-stern complainer who didn't know how to have fun, while Martha seemed frivolous and immature.  What's more, the book did not bring to light a particularly interesting relationship between William and Martha themselves.  However, despite these shortcomings, the story was a window onto a fascinating time in history that many of us knew little or nothing about.  Even the descriptions of the foreign service and how members of the diplomatic corps lived and worked--that is, they basically threw or attended lavish parties all week long--were eye-opening.  But what really gave this book its intrigue and omnipresent tension is that we all know how things turned out.  If only . . .

The Bad Guys

Der Führer

Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda of the Third Reich

Hermann Göring, Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe

Putzi Hanfstaengl, Head of the Foreign Press Bureau in Berlin

Rudolf Diels, first Head of the Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo)

Our next meeting is at Ms. K's new house!  And so far it's on our regularly scheduled date, October 5.  The Doctor is bringing apps, and the Highlander dessert.  Our book is The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff.  It's a long one (but an easy, enjoyable read), so until next time, read early and often!  xoej

1 comment:

  1. Mascarpone not ricotta! Although unfortunately the texture seemed more ricotta like.

    Putzi does make Diels look handsome in contrast!
    Yikes, Frankenstein much?!


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