Wednesday, March 8, 2017

#RecommendedResistanceReads: Kate Forsyth's 'The Beast's Garden'

'Ava fell in love the night the Nazis first showed their true nature to the world .' 

A retelling of the Grimms' Beauty and The Beast, set in Nazi Germany.

Readers of this blog will be aware of our admiration for Kate Forsyth's writing and unique use of fairy tales in her historical fiction, but this novel is especially appropriate for our #recommendedresistancereads (#RRR) theme at this time.

The Beast's Garden is more than a retelling of the fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast. It's a great book of inspiration and bravery. Ava's story, though fiction, rings with the truth of so many real lives. Perhaps those fictitious characters resisting (from the Gestapo to despair) did only one of these brave acts, perhaps they did many, but don't be fooled by the label of 'fiction' here. Throughout the pages are many TRUE stories, and the names and actions of real people, as historical records can testify to. Their stories join them to each other, and, now in 2017, as so many reach for inspiration, it joins us to them.

Here is Kate's summary for the novel, from her blog:
THE BEAST’S GARDEN is a retelling of the Grimm’s Beauty and The Beast set in Nazi Germany. Ava is a young woman who marries a Nazi officer in order to save her father, but she hates and fears her new husband and the regime for which he works. 
She becomes involved with an underground resistance movement in Berlin called the Red Orchestra, made up of artists, writers, diplomats and journalists, who pass on intelligence to the American embassy, distribute leaflets encouraging opposition to Hitler, and help people in danger from the Nazis to escape the country.  
Gradually Ava comes to realise that her husband Leo is part of a dangerous military conspiracy that plans to assassinate Hitler. As Berlin is bombed into ruins, and the Gestapo ruthlessly hunt down all resistance to Nazism, Ava unwittingly betrays Leo.  
When the Valkyrie plot fails, Leo is arrested and Ava must flee.  
Living hand-to-mouth in the rubble of Berlin, she must find some way to rescue her husband before he and his fellow conspirators are executed. 

The Beast’s Garden is a compelling and beautiful love story, filled with drama, intrigue and heartbreak, taking place between Kristallnacht in late 1938 and the fall of Berlin in 1945.  
As a bonus, on her blog, Kate has linked folks to some wonderful resources. One of our favorites is a Pinterest board of photos of people, many of them women, in the German Resistance Movement during WWII.
You can find that fascinating resource HERE.

Update: As this post was about to go live, Kate posted a special article on her blog, paying tribute to the women of the underground German Resistance in honor of International Women's Day. I'm inserting the link here, because her research on these women, and whose very real stories she expertly wove into the tapestry of The Beast's Garden, is one of the reasons it's in our recommended reads as we navigate the beginning of 2017 and all its personal and political challenges. The book is both mythic with the fairy tale resonance of timeless truths, and grounded in the inspiring true stories of amazing people who did their part to stand against tyranny, despite their fear and risk to their lives. You can read her fascinating spotlight HERE.

A bonus for fairy tale folk is that Kate makes wonderful use of The Singing, Springing Lark, a variation on the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale that has elements of East of the Sun, West of the Moon, especially with regard to the motif of 'the search for the lost/ disappeared bridegroom'. It turns out, this variant, fits beautifully in the torn and confused surroundings of Berlin during the rise to power of the Third Reich. The parallel suggests us the connection to stories both past and present, and sections of the novel are indicated with text extracts from the fairy tale, bringing a different light to both tale and history.
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.  
(In 'The Beast's Garden') a young woman marries a Nazi officer in order to save her father, but fears her new husband and the regime for which he works... (from Random House)
It's a daunting task to please readers after garnering a huge award, as Bitter Greens did (her historical fiction retelling of Rapunzel, which won the ALA for 2014), but once again, the deftly woven historical details anchoring the romance, edged with the ring of true stories from inspiring and real people living at that time, has received much praise. Here are just a few:
"Set in World War II, this retelling of Beauty of The Beast will set your emotions on edge. Set against a tumultuous backdrop of the Nazi regime, the choices made by these characters will set them on a path that cannot be undone. Stunningly written, The Beast's Garden explores the transformation of people as their morals are tested while evil rules supreme on every front. A beautiful novel that easily stands up against so many others set in the same era." Dymocks Chermside 
‘Skillfully crafted, The Beast’s Garden is another magnificent historical novel seamlessly melding truth and fiction, from Kate Forsyth. A wonderful tale of daring and courage, of struggle and survival, of love and loyalty, this is a ‘must read’. Book’d Out 
‘Intensely emotional and stunningly written, The Beast's Garden is a must-read. It has definitely made an impact on me, and I couldn't stop thinking about it for days afterwards, If you're a historical fiction fan and love an enthralling story, then this is for you. You won't regret it.’ Genie In a Book
Needless to say (but we will anyway) this book is highly recommended - both as a fairy tale retelling and as a wonderfully researched and written story that explores history, bravery and aspects of these fairy tales in a different context. It's also a novel that is currently very relevant and can speak to the fears and hopes we carry today.

For all the wonderful things this novel offers, this is the one we treasure most: that we must keep sharing stories. To do so is to link to the strength of the many who've gone before, the many who have stood against the storm, the many who right now do the same; the many who find, as they join hands, that they still can love, still create and still live - truly live. And so can we.

Thank you, Kate. It's a book to treasure.

1 comment:

  1. I REALLY want to read this! I wish it were available in print in the US...