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.
The Beast’s Garden is the kind of story that appears to be a simple fairy tale retelling, a classic tale woven through history; but in actual fact it is a powerful and important story, filled with bold thoughts and acts of defiance, bringing history to life under the guise of a mere fairy tale. It is brutal and honest, yet told so wonderfully that amongst the horror of war and the raw subject, you are captivated and amazed at what happens, real or otherwise.
From the first pages Forsyth holds nothing back, showing off the beauty and danger early on, something that remains until the very last page. The combination and close proximity beauty and danger has in this novel is wonderful, the way Forsyth shows how both existed side by side for so long also adds a lot of meaning. The fact day to day life coexisted with such horror, especially in the early years, is incredible to discover, even more so in novel form.
As you read you are immersed in a fascinating yet brutal part of history and the past comes to life revealing Forsyth’s immaculate research skills. According to Forsyth the only created characters are Ava, Leo, Jutta and their families, everyone else is taken from history. The Beast’s Garden includes important and historic figures such as the Goebbels, Mildred Harnack, members of the Abwehr, as well as numerous others on both sides. Through Forsyth’s flawless and bold narrative their stories and movements during Hitler’s reign are brought to life again in a spectacular tale about war, love, strength, and music.
Though a few characters are created, they fit perfectly into the history. Forsyth blends the actions of the real with the desires of the fictional and manages to excel and telling both stories. Real events are woven meticulously and elegantly with the lives of her characters creating a personal and unique perspective on some of the people and key moments during World War Two.
Aside from the historical elements, the detail and style of the narrative is wonderful to read. Nothing is included that isn’t of some importance and everything has meaning in some form or another. Ava is strong and resilient and watching her grow over the course of the story is incredible, truly an example of not knowing what you’re capable of until you have no other choice. Each created character brings something to the story, whether it is the perspective of the Jewish, the resistance, or those caught in between,
Ava’s story is not the sole one being told with many other figures having their stories explored as well, including members of the resistance, Libertas and Harro Schulze-Boysen. Forsyth has woven Ava into history marvellously and with the perspective of others included it brings a lot more intensity to the story than if the events and historic figures were merely background noise to Ava’s own life. Forsyth treats each of her characters with respect, and those taken from history have become as true and honest as they are able with actions, opinions, and fates reflecting what happened.
Forsyth combines the fairy tale and the real together stylishly and with skill. There are quotes from The Singing, Springing Lark opening each section and Ava reads and draws strength from the story of the lark herself, through all its torments and triumphs, each action reflected in her own story.
Coupled with the story of The Singing, Springing Lark and the facts and truths of World War Two, Forsyth’s incredible creativity and ability to mix together what is real and what is not is to be admired. The story spans seven years, from 1938 to 1945, and through Ava’s story you see the world change around her and see it change herself. Through her story and others an understanding is gained about the effect Hitler had on not just the outside world but Berlin and the German people too.
This is a story that is riddled with real faces and real events, connected and combined with characters that are filled with bravery, bold opinions, and incredible strengths. It is a novel told against the backdrop not only of history but of a fairytale, and one that demonstrates the power Germany had shown the world, but it also shows the power hidden within Germany itself. A spectacular story.
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