Friday, May 15, 2015

Ich Bin Berliner

Every once in a while something comes along which takes up every waking minute of your life. Well I am living that phase right now.  I am currently reading Erik Larson's "In the Garden of Beasts". I am halfway through and I had to come and write. These thoughts. I needed to pen them down somewhere. Perhaps here.

I read this chiclit after a friend recommended it and I enjoyed while it lasted but I was on a lookout for "a mind blowing" book. I did some research (Thanks to GoodReads) and  came across this book. How do you say no to a book with an attractive name that screams Germany and is from the second world war time? How do you say no to something which is history and is yet written like a novel.  If you are me you don't. You start reading it right away.

William E. Dodd was a professor with Chicago university, living his quiet life with dreams of writing that epic novel. In 1933, when Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed him United States ambassador to Germany his world changed. Hitler had recently been appointed chancellor and things were becoming different. Well, the legend has it that he was an accidental ambassador. In fact he was often referred as "telephone book Dodd". The President had supposedly wanted to offer the post to a Yale law professor named Walter F. Dodd but made a mistake in looking up the name.  Dodd decided to go to Berlin with his whole family including his young, adventurous and beautiful writer daughter Martha. She saw Germany with her rose tinted glasses. She had many alliances and was known for her associations in the social circles.

The story is quite fascinating and yes of course it is based on real events. What has enthralled me the most is the setting. Hitler's Germany and various characters around it. I have always been fascinated with Germany and its history and was lucky enough to travel and live there. I saw everything with my rose tinted glasses too.  In rare moments, my glasses would come off and I would see the broad daylight. Germany is known for perfection and if you look closely the shiny smooth surface has fine cracks. Yes, nothing in this universe is perfect and the law stands good for Germany also.
That is where I could draw parallels with Martha because she chose to ignore the other side just the way I did. The imperfections/ my observations are not relevant for this blog post.

There are fine things in print that just makes me want to flip through the pages all night long. Odd sentences in German thrown casually. The details of Berlin. The mentions of Nuremberg every now and then. I keep imagining the Germany that I know and remember and try to connect the dots with the incidents mentioned in the book. I think the main reason why it strikes a chord is because the book is written from an expats perspective and that's what makes it so special.

It's a brilliant book. I am halfway through so not quite sure how it ends. The truth startles you. The book so far feels like a thriller. While reading, sometimes I need to pause and check if this was really true. What can I say? The truth is indeed stranger than fiction sometimes.
The 200 odd pages that I have read so far made me realize how important it is to travel and live life beyond those tourist guidebooks. Also, how important it is to live life and have opinions. The importance of maintaining a journal. Erik Larson did most of his research based on Dodds and Martha's journals. Dodd would have remained "Telephone Book Dodd" had he and his daughter not published their side of the story.



  1. I guess when you live in a place for sometime rather than be a mere tourist, you get to see both sides of the place. I'll read this if I find it at my library. And ich bin ein Berliner was probably the first song we were taught in German class.

  2. @GM: Yes, please do. It is a fascinating read and not written with an intent to abuse Nazi's in particular. It is all about the events stated in "a very novel like" way..

  3. Check out Tracks by Robyn Davidson, I have a feeling you will like it

  4. @Priyanca: I will.. Someone recently suggested this. I will take this as a sign and order something.