After reading Bitter Greens, a Rapunzel retelling, for my Dymocks101 Challenge, I fell in love with Kate Forsyth’s style. While I haven’t yet read them, I raced out to buy Dragonclaw and The Wild Girl. I was thrilled to hear that her newest book The Beast’s Garden was a retelling of the German version of Beauty and the Beast, The Singing, Springing Lark, set in Nazi Germany, I was hooked.
And then I discovered that she would be holding its launch at Mosman Library, on a day that I could make it! I was thrilled and booked myself in – it was a brilliant night and only $8! I will definitely be keeping an eye out for other library events!
Kate was marvellous! She told us about her writing process, where her ideas came from and a little bit about her doctorate in fairytales (best thing to get a doctorate for!)!! We even had storytelling time, where she read us the Grimm Brother’s tale The Singing, Springing Lark. But the signing was the best bit! I went with a great friend of mine, Anna, who had read Forsyth’s earlier work while I had read some of her later books. So together we knew most of her stuff! We were chatting in line about our first experiences and Anna mentioned that the books were so profound for her she remembers the exact time and place in which she experienced them. Kate was so excited and named us her favourites for the evening – a definite highlight! Hahaha!
It’s August 1939 in Germany, and Ava’s world is in turmoil. To save her father, she must marry a young Nazi officer, Leo von Löwenstein, who works for Hitler’s spy chief in Berlin. However, she hates and fears the brutal Nazi regime, and finds herself compelled to stand against it.
Ava joins an underground resistance movement that seeks to help victims survive the horrors of the German war machine. But she must live a double life, hiding her true feelings from her husband, even as she falls in love with him.
Gradually she comes to realise that Leo is part of a dangerous conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. As Berlin is bombed into ruins, the Gestapo ruthlessly hunt down all resistance, and Ava finds herself living hand to mouth in the rubble of the shell-shocked city. Both her life and Leo’s hang in the balance.
Filled with danger, intrigue and romance, The Beast’s Garden, a retelling of the Grimm brothers’ ‘Beauty and the Beast’, is a compelling love story set in a time when the world seemed on the brink of collapse.
Inspired at first by Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl and later her own research into the Second World War, The Beast’s Garden is a truly beautiful story, encapsulating many elements essential to understanding human behaviour during the period.
Ava’s father is an academic, her sister’s daughter is developmentally delayed, and her best friend is Jewish and gay. All of these characters demonstrate the horrors and fears people in these situations faced.
The book has a brilliant first line:
Ava fell in love the night the Nazis first showed their true faces to the world.
It immediately sets the book up as a romance in one of the most devastating periods in history; the juxtaposition between love and the horror the Nazis inflicted really resonated with me.
We see the story primarily through three points of view – Ava, a brilliant, beautiful musician who is devastated as her world collapses around her; the gorgeous Leo (the Beast, whose name literally means Lion von Lion-stone) who is my new book boyfriend, despite working for Hitler; and Rupert, Ava’s best friend, who spends most of the book in a concentration camp. We sympathise not only with the Jewish people, but also with the ordinary Germans who fear to lead their normal lives. There is such a massive barrier between Leo and Ava, because they both fear saying too much and endangering the other.
A beautiful historical fiction, this book is just divine. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the period of the Second World War, and for everyone else who just loves a good read. Warning though: there will probably be some crying, though admittedly only the best books bring you to tears!