Tag Archives: Nazi Germany

Finding Robert Coles ‘In the Garden of Beasts’

In the Garden of BeastsAuthor Erik Larson’s nonfiction work, In the Garden of Beasts, has been sitting in my “to read” pile since its pub date back in 2011. For the love of summer, I was able to turn the final page last night and can’t quite stop thinking about it.

Larson, also the bestselling author of The Devil in the White City, shifts his focus in Beasts to 1930’s Berlin, where the unlikely American ambassador William E. Dodd has taken his post during Hitler’s chilling rise to power. As Dodd navigates the complexities of his political post, the reader is introduced to an incredible cast of characters both demonic and heroic.

ColesCompFinal.inddIt is a wonderful intersect when what we read gives way to contemplation, and more so, empathy for humankind. It is of note here that I have also been reading Secular Days, Sacred Moments:  The America Columns of Robert Coles, recently published by Michigan State University Press.

Coles is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Medical Humanities at Harvard University and “is unparalleled in his astute understanding and respect for the relationship between secular life and sacredness… .” (via)

In the thirty-one essays of Secular Days, Sacred Moments, which are drawn from Coles’s monthly column in the Catholic publication America, how odd that the one I happened to read today pertains to the German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Bonhoeffer, who lived “a singular, voluntary opposition to tyranny that culminated in his execution in a concentration camp only weeks before the end of Hitler’s regime,” is hailed by Coles. Bonhoeffer’s brave resistance to the Nazis outweighed his concern for self-preservation, and he left the safety of the United States to return and stand by his fellow Germans.

There is both a Christian and psychological angle to Cole’s essay, and having just read In the Garden of Beasts, it’s poignancy can’t be missed. The question, “What would you do under such circumstances?” is posed in Cole’s work, and hums behind each line of Larson’s.

In the Garden of Beasts offers a close, personal look at a pivotal era in history. The “what-ifs” are boundless, and the outcomes staggering. It is an important book in terms of moral self-examination and offers endless ethical scenarios for consideration. Though my reading of Cole’s Bonhoeffer essay is a coincidence, his full body of work in Secular Days, Sacred Moments offers much in the way we reflect and interpret our everyday exchanges and the world that surrounds us.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters

– Post by Megan Shaffer

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Fallada Lives on in ‘Every Man Dies Alone’

Cover ImageAfter finishing Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone, I needed some time to sit and really think about the book. In itself, the story is extremely powerful, but the fact that Fallada lived, breathed and navigated the ruthless currents of Nazi Germany brings a frightening credibility to the tension of this novel.

Otto Quangel is considered a simple man by all those around him. He quietly heads to the factory each morning, efficiently runs his lines, and methodically returns to his gray flat in the same manner. His wife Anna awaits, laying low and fretting in spades for the safety of his daily return.

Otto and Anna have lost their Germany. They are quiet people by nature, but speak sparingly due to the invisible eyes that are always watching. Neighbors are turning. People are hiding. Death and corruption are everywhere. Nazi rule has spread, and with it the trepidation and horror of rumored camps and prisons.

The strength of Every Man Dies Alone, however, lies not so much in the depiction of the torturous treatment and silencing at the hands of the Nazis, but rather in Fallada’s shrewd ability to convey the thrill of fear, and the enormity of risk, as the Quangel’s conspire to take a stand.

If you could muster the courage, how would you stand up to such a staunch and brutal regime? Would you mobilize a coup or a riot? Or would it be something more covert like an underground press or subversive leafleting? What if you were just an everyday man who could hide behind an everyday routine like Otto – would you take any action at all?

I would be cheating you of a magnificent read if I provided any plot spoilers. You should know that Every Man Dies Alone is based on the brave, true story of a couple who decided to resist, and in so doing, showed that the smallest of actions often provide incredible, unintended results. Through the deft skills of Hans Fallada, their small story resounds decades later.

Of Note: Hans Fallada (nee Rudolph Ditzen) wrote Every Man Dies Alone in a feverish twenty-four days, soon after the end of World War II and his release from a Nazi insane asylum. He did not live to see its publication.* Informative sections of Fallada and his life among the Nazi system is provided in the Melville House Publishing paperback version.

– Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

*taken from book jacket

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Filed under Authors, Book Reviews, Every Man Dies Alone, Hans Fallada