Kate Forsyth is one of my favourite Australian authors, and her re-telling of the Rapunzel fairytale in Bitter Greens is still with me, years after reading it.
The Beast's Garden is Kate Forsyth's latest re-telling and is based on the fairytale Beauty and the Beast. In this case, the beauty is Ava, a talented and beautiful young German woman and the beast of the title is Leo, an intelligent Nazi Officer with an unexpected love of poetry.
Set in Nazi Germany during WWII, Ava rejects all of Leo's advances (despite her attraction to him) until the actions of the Gestapo begin to impact those in her immediate circle, including her Jewish friends.
Taking place in Berlin from 1938 - 1945, we see how regular Germans react to the Gestapo and the Hitler regime, and the impact of war on the city's citizens. Ava takes risks to defy Hitler and joins an underground resistance movement, and sees many of her friends arrested, tortured and killed. Leo works for the Abwehr (secret intelligence service) but Ava isn't quite sure if he's a spy or not and has to tread carefully.
Ava's childhood friend is sent to Buchenwald concentration camp and the several chapters from his perspective are thoroughly heartbreaking and a haunting reminder of the atrocities committed during the Hitler regime.
As I was reading this love story filled with brutal destruction, hate and death, (as well as a love of literature) I didn't have the sense of reading a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast in the same way as Bitter Greens. I understand the analogy, but for me The Beast's Garden reads like a WWII historical novel with a fresh perspective.
A handful of main characters in the book are fictional, however I've since learned that all events that take place during the novel and many of the people mentioned were based on real figures from history and required years of research.
My rating = ***
For more insight from Kate Forsyth herself about her inspiration for The Beast's Garden, check out her blog post on the topic.