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THE BEAST’S GARDEN by Kate Forsyth, Book Review and Author Q&A

Kate Forsyth’s The Beast’s Garden is a retelling of the Grimm’s Beauty and The Beast, set in Nazi Germany.

The Beast's Garden Kate Forsyth

The Beast’s Garden Synopsis: 

‘Ava fell in love the night the Nazis first showed their true nature to the world .’

It’s August 1939 in Germany, and Ava’s world is in turmoil. To save her father, she must marry a young Nazi officer, Leo von Löwenstein, who works for Hitler’s spy chief in Berlin. However, she hates and fears the brutal Nazi regime, and finds herself compelled to stand against it.

Ava joins an underground resistance movement that seeks to help victims survive the horrors of the German war machine. But she must live a double life, hiding her true feelings from her husband, even as she falls in love with him.

Gradually she comes to realise that Leo is part of a dangerous conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. As Berlin is bombed into ruins, the Gestapo ruthlessly hunt down all resistance and Ava finds herself living hand-to-mouth in the rubble of the shell-shocked city. Both her life and Leo’s hang in the balance.

Filled with danger, intrigue and romance, The Beast’s Garden, a retelling of the Grimm brothers’ ‘Beauty and The Beast’, is a beautiful, compelling love story set in a time when the world seemed on the brink of collapse.

(Random House Australia)

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BOOK REVIEW

Kate Forsyth’s fairytale retellings Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl rank among my favourite novels. Although inspired by ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ (a variant of the French ‘Beauty & the Beast’ tale told by Dortchen Wild to Wilhelm Grimm) the sheer gravity of the real WWII events depicted mean the fairytale elements take second billing in The Beast’s Garden.

Although not always in the foreground, the fairytale references, both direct and symbolic, imbue this novel with an artistic spirit and timelessness not often found in WWII fiction written from a German perspective.

Kate’s leading lady Ava, musically minded and courageous, sees kaleidoscopic colour amidst the grey of wartime – literally and figuratively.

Her bedroom was lit up with orange glare. The colour of D major, the key of glory and war rejoicing.

Somehow the existence and acknowledgement of beauty (in all forms) heightens the atrocity of evil acts.

Ava thought about the Nazi officer. His voice had been deep and golden, like the song of a cello.

While the plot is more linear than her earlier works, Kate ensures many ‘very human’ perspectives on the conflict are represented. The collective voice however is one of resistance and courage ‘against evil’.

In this novel, a light is shone on the fight fought within Germany by Germans to stop Hitler’s destruction. The focus on individual acts of resistance by people who actually lived, and tragically died for their beliefs, make this wartime tale all the more moving.

Berlin at night. An animal in so much pain it could not rest. It whimpered and moaned. Paced back and forth, uncomprehending. Tail lashing. It scratched at its own sores until they were wounds.

While The Beast’s Garden does not for me reach the dizzying heights of Bitter Greens as a fairytale retelling, it does bring a new and inspired perspective to World War II fiction – a reminder of the strength and beauty of human spirit.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

UPDATE: I have also enjoyed Beauty in Thorns (2017) and The Blue Rose (2019) that Kate has released since.

Author Q&A – Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth author of The Beast's GardenBLBR:  Congratulations on the release of The Beast’s Garden Kate. 

As a reader, I found the nearness of the historical period and depiction of real events in this work of fiction deeply affecting. Conducting the extensive research required to establish such close links with those events (and people) must have been difficult on a personal level?

Kate Forsyth: Yes, it was! When I write a book, I spend months inhabiting the skin of my characters and so I feel deeply everything that they suffer.  Many of my characters are based on real people, who fought with all their strength to resist Hitler, and who paid the ultimate price for their courage. It was heartbreaking that they died so cruelly without knowing that Hitler would, in the end, be defeated.

The research was harrowing at times too. I watched a lot of documentaries about Hitler and the Holocaust, to help visualise the times and the places, and some of the images were so upsetting. It made me think a lot about the nature of good and evil and the importance of resistance too.

It was one of the most challenging books I have ever written, as a consequence.

BLBR: I was particularly struck by the way you have linked colours and music/sound in the narrative. Can you tell us a little more about that?

Kate Forsyth: When I began writing The Beast’s Garden, I very much wanted my heroine Ava to be just an ordinary young woman – not someone trained as a spy or a resistance fighter – just someone who did their best in extraordinary circumstances. I kept thinking: what would I have done if I had been Ava? I identified with her so strongly that I ended up giving her some of my own traits. Dark curly hair and green eyes. A gypsy soul. A love of music, particularly jazz. And I also gave her the ability to see images or pictures when she hears certain words or songs. This is something I’ve always been able to do. I thought everyone could, but only recently I was told it was actually highly unusual and may be a form of synaesthesia. I don’t know if it is or not – I suspect it has more to do with a highly visual imagination – but I gave it to Ava exactly how it is for me.

Your name, for example – to me it looks like a stylised tree with a hole in its roots.

BLBR: There are many people featured within this novel, each with their own distinct and colourful personalities who could easily have been lead characters in their own right. Was this novel a difficult one to reign in?

Kate Forsyth: I actually wrote The Beast’s Garden in three different ways. My first attempt was to write the story in diary entries and letters, but it did not work. So I rewrote the story as a first-person narrative, all from Ava’s point of view. This still did not do the story justice, so I rewrote the whole novel in the third person with multiple points of view. At once, the story began to work and I knew I had made the right decision.

It was difficult, though!

BLBR: What is next in the creative pipeline?

Kate Forsyth: I am now working on another fairy-tale-infused historical novel, tentatively called Briar Thorns. It tells the story of Edward Burne-Jones’s creation of his famous series of ‘Briar Rose’ paintings, seen through the eyes of the wives and mistresses, models and muses of the famous Pre-Raphaelite circle of artists in late Victorian England.

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Genre: Historical, Romance, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

This review counts towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2015 and the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

About the Author, Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth is the internationally bestselling author of more than thirty books, including The Witches of Eileanan and Rhiannon’s Ride fantasy series for adults. She completed a doctorate in fairytale retellings and the novels that have come out of this fascination include the winner of the 2015 American Libraries Association Prize for Historical Fiction, Bitter Greens, The Wild Girl and the forthcoming The Beast’s Garden. Her books have been published in seventeen different countries, including Japan, Poland, Spain, Russia and Turkey. Kate has also written series for children of all ages and the contemporary novel Dancing on Knives. Check out her website.

* Receiving an e-copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions.