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Thursday, August 06, 2015

Just Finished Reading... The Beast's Garden by Kate Forsyth. VintageBooks Australia, 2015


had been looking forward to reading this, ever since I heard that Kate Forsyth was doing a novel based on "Beauty And The Beast", set in Nazi Germany. 

It was worth the wait, though I should explain that it's not exactly "Beauty And The Beast", but rather a B&B variation in the Grimms' second collection, "The Singing, Springing Lark". That one starts off like B&B, though the girl has asked her father to bring her a lark rather than a rose and the Beast is a lion. That's where it ends - the rest of the story is quite different and the heroine has to do quite a lot of tasks to get her beloved Beast back, more like Cupid And Psyche and some other fairytales of the kind where a rival lets her have access to his room in exchange for a bauble of some kind, but makes sure he's asleep.  So, yes, the heroine of this book, Ava, has an adventure, but the author does throw in a lot of references to roses, as in B&B.  

Ava is the daughter of a university professor who is not crazy about the Nazis. Neither is she, and on the Night Of Broken Glass(Kristallnacht) she is out trying to help the Jewish family which has pretty much been her own since her mother, an opera singer, died. She says some rather reckless things to a young Nazi officer, but fortunately he is secretly anti-Nazi and helps the family by sending the bullies smashing up the family's home on their way. His name is Leo(as in lion) and this is the beginning of their romance and eventual marriage.

The rest of the novel shows Germany going downhill, while Ava watches in horror and tries to help her Jewish friends and others. Leo is involved in a plot to kill Hitler - no spoiler here as it's on the cover blurb - and their lives are dangerous and frightening. It's amazing how many attempts there were to kill Hitler apart from the most famous one. He managed to survive them all before his date with destiny in the bunker.Ava is a good, strong heroine, without having to be "kick-ass"(though she dies do some physical stuff towards the end). She spends the novel doing anti-Nazi activities with her friends, some of whom are real historical figures.

If you know about the fairytale, you should be able to spot the connections easily enough. If you don't know, it doesn't matter - it works just fine as a historical novel with a lot of adventure. 

I hadn't realised how many of the characters were real people, but tried not to look them up before finishing the book, to avoid my own spoilers. I did look up some places, such as the Adlon hotel, where Ava performs early in the book. Apparently it's still there and is a Berlin icon, a bit like our Windsor hotel in Melbourne. 

I was, however, familiar with some things mentioned. Flossenburg concentration camp, which appears in the later chapters of the book, was where my father was imprisoned and used as slave labour. It meant I had some emotional connections with the book, apart from the Holocaust itself. 

I read this in ebook - I find it hard to put off gratification these days - but by now it will be available in all good bookshops and I do recommend it! 

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