The Beast’s Garden…
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.
What a vividly beautiful novel The Beast’s Garden is. Kate Forsyth has managed to weave an unforgettable tale of love, honour, betrayal and bravery, that will stay with me for a long time I expect.
Set against the backdrop of WWII within Nazi Germany, this story sets itself apart right from the outset. I’ve read many novels set during this era, they are certainly not few and far between, but I had never read one from the perspective of a German woman or a Nazi Officer, and that’s where this novel comes into its own. It gives us a human face from the other side to examine. Kate vividly brought to life the fervour and depravity of the era, the desperate fight for many German’s to hang onto their humanity in the face of fear from an evil that was for so long uncontained.
Of course, at the heart of this story, is the great love and devotion between Ava and Leo, our Beauty and her Beast. Leo’s story is one I found particularly moving and it gave me much to think on in terms of the position so many people were placed in during the era in which the Nazi’s ruled Germany. It’s all too simple to lump a faction of people together as a whole, but Leo’s situation raised many questions surrounding the difficulty of being in a position where you are faced with only two choices: serve against your conscience or die. To choose death is a bold move that not everyone is capable of. Nor does it necessarily achieve a means to an end. I have dwelled since finishing this novel quite a bit on how a person could possibly come back from the horror of all that was endured. I’ve never really felt so affected by a story before. The ruin of a nation; it’s a stunningly heart-breaking construct to contemplate.
The way this novel was laid out against the original tale of Beauty and the Beast was truly imaginative and beautiful. Such a clever parallel. I highly applaud Kate for this as I expect it was a lot harder to pull together than if she had written the story as a straight WWII novel. It also gave the story of Leo and Ava substance, a tangible goal. Ava dearly loved her Beast but couldn’t own it for the longest time. Their mutual realisation of how much they each loved the other was a truly beautiful moment within their story. The lengths that Ava went to in order to save Leo elevates this novel to one of the greatest love stories I’ve ever read.
This novel was brave and beautiful, painful and necessary, a triumph of good over evil. I am still in awe and remain ever grateful to Kate Forsyth for sharing her passion and immense talent.
The Beast’s Garden was read and reviewed as part of my 2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge. I have reposted it in anticipation of Kate Forsyth’s upcoming release, Beauty In Thorns, due out on the 3rd July by Penguin Random House.
About Beauty in Thorns:
Beauty in Thorns is told in the voices of four extraordinary women in the Pre-Raphaelite sisterhood – Lizzie Siddal,
Janey Morris, Georgie Burne-Jones and her daughter, Margot.
Lizzie Siddal was Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s lover and the model for John Everett Millais’ famous painting of ‘Ophelia’,
but she had dreams of becoming an artist in her own right. After her death, Rossetti famously buried his poems in
her coffin then – seven years later – had her body exhumed to retrieve the worm-eaten manuscript.
Seventeen- year-old Janey Burden – a ‘stunner’ from the slums – has a wild, dark beauty that threatened to divide and
overwhelm them all. Discovered by Ned Burne-Jones, married to William Morris, she embarked on a passionate affair
with Rossetti before he – haunted by Lizzie’s ghost and addicted to chloral – descended into madness.
Georgie Macdonald – the daughter of a zealous Methodist minister – fell in love with Ned Burne-Jones when she was
only a child, and put aside her own dreams of creating art to support him and raise their family. Ned’s catastrophic
affair with the sculptress Maria Zambaco ended in scandal when she tried to drown herself. Georgie’s strength and
steadfastness led her to discover her own calling as a suffragette and writer.
Her fifteen-year-old daughter Margot, meanwhile, had become Ned’s greatest muse. He painted her again and again
as the sleeping princess in ‘The Legend of Briar Rose’. Margot must somehow find the strength to break free of her
father’s obsessive love for her if she is to awaken to her own life of love and fulfilment.
Bringing to life the dramatic story of love, desire, obsession and tragedy that lies behind the Victorian era’s most
famous paintings, Beauty in Thorns is for anyone who loved Tracy Chevalier’s Girl With A Pearl Earring or A. S.
Keep an eye out for my review of Beauty in Thorns which I will be posting on Tuesday the 4th July as part of a blog tour for the release of this much anticipated novel.
Kate Forsyth will appear on the Australian Women Writers Challenge blog for my regular fortnightly historical author Sunday Spotlight on the 2nd July.