Erik Larson's new book is the story of an American family living in Germany during one of its most provocative times. William Dodd hadn’t even made the short list of candidates for Ambassador to Germany at the beginning of Roosevelt's presidency. Roosevelt had just been in office months and there had not been an Ambassador to Germany in over a year. No one wanted the job. One of Roosevelt’s insiders suggested William Dodd who was chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago. He spoke fluent German and had received his doctorate in Germany.
When Dodd received the call, he was languishing in his department. He hadn’t achieved everything he had hoped and thought that this might be the pinnacle of his career. So he, his wife, adult son Bill, and adult daughter Martha, went to Berlin in 1933. His charges were to lay low, not cause trouble, avoid the "Jewish problem" and try to impel the new leadership to pay back its debt from the first World War.
Before he went to Berlin, Dodd thought that the rumours of beatings and disappearances had all been, as the German government had explained, blown out of proportion. But as Americans were showing up to the consulate bloody and beaten, Dodd came to realize that things were much worse than originally thought. Washington was of little help in giving direction. But like many foreigners, Dodd did not believe that the German government, with so much in-fighting, would last for very long. He watched horrified as Hitler’s government, which in 1933 seemed unorganized and ruled by thugs, shored up its power into a war machine.
Meanwhile, daughter Martha was having the time of her life in 1930’s Berlin. She met high ranking party officials, spies of all sorts, and writers and actors. Martha was having a ball, until some of her lovers went missing or were killed. She also discovered that she was being used as a pawn for many sides. Slowly, Martha began to see the dark side of Berlin.
Covering the times from 1933 until 1938, Larson gives us what life was like for Americans in Berlin, even those with special privileges such as the Ambassador. Washington was no help to what Dodd saw. He felt very alone as what he witnessed compelled him to speak out for honor and character to no avail. What he had hoped would be a pinnacle to his career ended in pain and sadness.
Placing the novel in the gold rush era, the brothers find desperate men and women who have given up everything for this chance of riches. Because they are hired assassins for money they attach their own morality to everyone who is in search of it. Occasionally, the brothers come across people who force them to question the role of money in their lives and what they need to do for it. Luck is as important as hard work in the world of gold and therefore leads to superstitions. Some of the people, especially the women and children have been dragged into this life because of the men. Even at the mercy of Charlie's kidding, Eli tries to help those who keep a small reserve of humanity.
Along the way, Eli and Charlie discuss whether this should be their last hit. Eli wants to retire to a shop. Charlie wants to be his own bossman like the one who hires them to kill. Their delay in getting to San Francisco has unintended consequences. At the end of this long road, after everyone they've met, the reader wonders if this time it will be different. A starkly beautiful novel.
- What is the purpose of your garden? Outdoor living? Entertaining? Meditation? Play space? Producing vegetables (and/or eggs, honey...) Or cut flowers for the house?
- Where is your garden? In the soggy northwest, the arid southwest, in a temperate area that resemble the Mediterranean region?
- What materials will you use? A new feature in many new gardens is gravel- which may sound odd, but has many practical qualities.
- And what about edible gardens? Even those that produce honey- and eggs, as chickens become common even in larger cities (Berkeley, California, for example!) And community gardens mean more than just food- they can nourish and educate the young, and bring beauty and a spirit of renovation to neighborhoods that have fallen into economic backwaters.