Title: The Beast’s Garden
Author: Kate Forsyth
Published: August 3rd 2015
Publisher: Vintage Australia
Genres: Fiction, Historical, War, Romance, Retelling
Rating: 5 stars
A retelling of The Beauty and The Beast set in Nazi Germany
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 realise that he is a good man at heart, and part of an underground resistance movement in Berlin called the Red Orchestra. However, her realisation 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 organisation 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.
A haunting portrait of life during Nazi occupied Germany, with gentle undertones of a Grimm Brothers fairy tale, ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ or an offshoot of Beauty and The Beast, is Australian author Kate Forsyth’s 2015 release, The Beast’s Garden. I felt compelled to read The Beast’s Garden, as Forsyth is a novelist who comes highly recommended by many readers. I was also intrigued as to how her fairytale retelling would work under a wartime backdrop. For me, any literature that stands out from the crowd on World War II, is sure to gain my attention. The Beast’s Garden did this with ease.
The Beast’s Garden begins in 1938, Hitler has already started his removal of the Jewish population in Germany. These events signal a time of great change and danger for many. When nineteen year old Ava Falkenhorst, a beautiful and talented singer meets Leo von Lowenstein, their attraction is immediate, though Ava tries her hardest to deny it. For Ava, Leo is someone to detest, a Nazi officer. However, Ava has to put her feelings for the regime Leo works for aside, in order to rescue her family from certain death. Entering into a marriage with Leo, guarantees both her and her family’s safety at a time of great danger. Forsyth’s novel covers many harrowing experiences of this time, from Ava’s day to day survival as a young German woman during violent Berlin, to her close Jewish friend’s fight for his life in a concentration camp. The Beast’s Garden also covers the resistance movement active in Berlin, driven by brave people such as writers and artists. These brave souls risked their lives over and over again, to uncover key intelligence, or save people from the wrath of the Nazis. When Leo becomes involved in a direct plot to assassinate Hitler, Ava must summon all the strength and bravery she can to rescue her husband. This dramatic tale of love, duty and sacrifice, demonstrates the strength of the human spirit in the face of war.
Forsyth presents one of the most compelling, as well as vivid portraits of life in Berlin under the Nazi rule I have read. Over the years I have read many books, both fiction and nonfiction on this era but there was something so authentic about The Beast’s Garden. It is one of those novels that I will not forget in a hurry. What I appreciated about Forsyth’s angle in The Beast’s Garden was an aspect of the war which is hardly ever touched or mentioned. Forsyth draws our attention to the many German citizens did would they could, risking their lives to help many during this turbulent time, through the underground resistance movement. Adding to the authenticity of a book that I feel sets the bar extremely high in World War II fiction, is Forsyth’s employ of real life characters from this time, such as high ranking Nazi officers and Hitler’s entourage. These aspects of The Beast’s Garden made it all the more fascinating, as well as realistic.
Ava and Leo are such a romantic couple, it is hard to resist their individual charms. Ava’s musical talents and naturally caring nature, makes her an enduring character. Ava is paired with Leo, an extremely handsome young man, who loves deeply and passionately but has his secrets. I loved the way Ava and Leo’s romance progressed, from the first spark, to the deep love that later developed. I liked how Ava showed much resistance to Leo and eventually gave into his charms, their love story held me captive. My only complaint was I wanted more build up and tension in the early stages of their courtship. Those who appreciate fairy tales will love the sections in the book on Ava and Leo’s relationship, it beautifully echoes ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’. There is plenty of rich characterisation, as well as tragic moments, to keep the reader enthralled. The latter parts of the novel had me turning the pages at a frantic pace, I was desperate to discover the final fate of the characters I began to care so deeply about.
The Beast’s Garden is a highly skilful novel that demonstrates Forsyth’s craft in the art of weaving together historical events, with an unforgettable romance, which harks back to a traditional fairytale. The Beast’s Garden is a book I would recommend over and over again, it is a true testament of love and the will to survive in a time of war.
The Beast’s Garden by Kate Forsyth was published in August 2015 by Vintage Australia, details on how to purchase the book can be found here.