"In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin" by Erik Larson

"In the Garden of Beasts" is an engaging tour through the lives of the American ambassador to Germany and his family during the early years of the Third Reich.

Erik Larson, the author, is a former features writer for The Wall Street Journal and Time magazine. He is more known as the author of "The Devil in the White City" which won the 2004 Edgar Award in the Best Fact Crime category.

The nonfiction book in its entirety is of a somber and menacing atmosphere, as attested in the author's choice of chapter titles such as "Lucifer's Run", "Premonition", and "Gardens in the Dark", inter alia. Such choice of titles reveals the reality that almost everyone holding political office in the diplomatic community were under the illusion that the Nazi regime would soon be toppled or even bow down due to public pressure.

It is interesting to note how the Dodd family was said to have been enamoured with the Third Reich Germany before realizing that beneath all those facades, there is an underlying darkness waiting to surface.

The ambassador William Dodd and his daughter Martha found some Nazi party members, despite their evil political stances, to be "quite human" in their daily activities. Minister Hermann Goering, for example, was described as greedy and vain, while the Fuhrer Adolf Hitler himself, though stubborn when debating politics, is found to be very gentlemanly towards women. That side of Hitler is what Martha recounted after one of her rare encounters with him. There were even rumours of blossoming romance between Martha Dodd and Hitler himself (a rumour she was quite happy to hear), though eventually nothing came out of it.

Several excerpts were also devoted on how the ambassadorial residence of Dodd in the Tiergarten (lit. "Garden of Beast" in German) district of Berlin was able to provide modest yet safe haven for speaking out freely against the portending evils of the Third Reich. It is as if in the entire country of Germany, his residence alone was the only place where people can speak freely and yet remain totally immune from reprisal attacks by the Nazis.

Even the then-President Roosevelt admitted how vital Dodd's role was in safeguarding democracy on the very last years before U.S. and the Third Reich went into war. After the ambassador's demise in 1940, President made a succinct statement that in the end Mr Dodd "proved to be...a lone beacon of American freedom and hope in a land of gathering darkness" (as found in page 356).

My main critique of the book would be the absence of any mentions of the Reich war minister Albert Speer, who had a considerably imminent presence during the pre-war diplomacy. The book also focuses too much on the lives and scandals of Ambassador Dodd and his daughter Martha, while the mentions of son Bill Jr. Dodd were mostly found in the last chapter.

Another critique was on the ending of the book. Albeit satisfactory, the conclusion fell quite flat as the author seemed to rush through the rest of the lives of Martha and Bill Jr. within only several pages... It makes us readers feel that there is more to the story yet to be explored.

However, overall "In the Garden of Beasts" is perhaps one of the best books ever written on the topic of US-Germany diplomacy during the pre-WWII era. I present kudos to Erik Larson for penning such a magnificent book.

Verdict: 9 out of 10 stars



Nothing disappointed me more than the fact of knowing that she wouldn't be coming with us that time.

It means that it would be quite a while before I got to see her again.

Then when I finally did see her joining us recently, though only for a while, it seemed as if all my sorrows and problems ceased to exist.

We did not talk much.

But all the while, she became an object of fixation of mine.

And nothing else matters, as long as I could see that smile.

She has been haunting my nights like a dream, a nightmare that has been a recurring theme over the last several weeks.

A nightmare I find to be oddly delightful.


"Koko Be Good" by Jen Wang

"Koko Be Good" is a heartwarming story for young adults of various backgrounds. And by young adults, I don't mean fantasy-devouring, goth-obsessed, or insecure teenage girls. By young adults I mean those in their 20s who are trying to make sense of their lives by balancing college, friends, and dreams.

Because that is exactly what this book is about: achieving harmony between coming-of-age dreams and the happiness we know at present...

Verdict: 6 out of 10 stars


Au revoir!

Now that the Maître family has moved to South Carolina, my family is going to miss them.

I first met the aged couple at church in November 2009. Most fellow churchgoers call them "the French couple", primarily because Mrs M. Maître is a Belgian citizen with a thick French accent, while Mr P. Maître is a dual French-US citizen with only a slight French accent.

The couple and I got along quickly, primarily because I can understand French. So at times Mrs M. Maître speak to me in French, though my replies came back in English.

Despite me having studied some French back in Indonesia, my very first introductions to French meals such as couscous and Bourdeaux wines came by when they invited me to their occasional dinners.

During those days when my mother and my sister haven't come to USA yet (in case you don't know, I spent around 15 months living by myself in USA, since Mom and my sis hadn't got enough money to come here), Mr P. Maître came and took me to the clinic and waited for me whenever I fell sick.

Then during the World Cup 2010 in South Africa, I asked them if I could come over to their house to watch football. I had no cable in my house because I never watch TV you see (except for playing my DVDs, Wii, and PS3). They welcomed me for all the Japanese and French matches, without hesitation.

In summers, I was also welcome to come to their house to swim in their rather-large pool.

When they decided to move to in a South Carolina town to be closer to one of their daughters, my family and some of their friends were rather saddened. They conducted a farewell party just two weeks ago by their pool, and there was quite a turnout. Though the Maître family do not belong to the elites of the town, it seemed like most people who have known them have a quite favourable opinion of them.

They are indeed, kindhearted souls.

Mr P. Maître told my family is the last time they will be moving, and alas, we have no idea when we will be seeing them again. The distance from my town to their town is around 640 miles away. We exchanged e-mails and Skype accounts, in case we want to communicate again online. However, they will always be remembered as good friends who have been there in times of need, and they shall be missed.


Plutonium traces in our body

From an informative graphic novel "Trinity: A Graphic History of The First Atomic Bomb" by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, I discovered that due to the frequent testings of atomic bombs in Nevada in the 1950s and 1960s,

each of our bodies [especially those who live in the U.S. and surrounding countries - ed.] contains some amount of radioactive material, lingering trace of atomic testing.

When I read that, I said to myself...damn, I thought traces of radioactive materials do exist in nature? 

But then again, further research on the topic concludes that the plutonium traces from those Nevada testings are significantly less than the exposure we get from regular sunlight, or the Radon we get from being in a basement/enclosed car park.

Hence our radioactive world.


"American Born Chinese" by Gene Luen Yang

Seeing the book cover, I thought this was some stupid, childish comic book.

I found myself wrong after leafing the first few pages. Though the story is mostly simplistic, this graphic novel has one of the most astonishing endings that would surely left anyone asking for more.

Sweet, yet simple. Just like the way we Asians are!

Verdict: 9 out of 10 stars


"Odd Jobs: Portraits of Unusual Occupations" by Nancy Rica Schiff

First, take a look a the cover. Yes, that woman gets paid for smelling people's body odours... Her job title is "odour judge", where she has to tell the efficacy of deodorants.

Each odd job is shown with a picture accompanying it. They can range from the envy of millions such as Videogame Tester, Dog walker, Beer taster, or bra designer to the less pleasant ones such as Bull semen collector, Knife thrower's assistant (who works with the famed Larry Cisewski as a live target for knife stage shows) or Colonics therapist (who cleans people's arses from excrements).

One job I find peculiar is as the Headmistress of Miss Vera's Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls, the world's first cross-dressing academy. And in that school, 60% of the student body is married.


Verdict: 7 out of 10 stars


Vlog entry #3: Reading texts in 16 languages

As a disclaimer, I only speak five languages in real life... I just read some pronunciation guides from online.

Also, please excuse my monotonous reading tone... I'm still new/amateurish to video-posting!


"I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar" by Sharon Eliza Nichols


Seriously? What is wrong with America...how could they're teachers let them graduate from high school with out nowing how too use the proper spelling?

My paragraph above is annoying, isn't it? Then please, for once, use proper English spelling for God's sake!

"I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar: A Collection of Egregious Errors, Inadvertent Bloopers, and Other Linguistic Slip-Ups" displays a plethora of spelling and pronunciation which are commonly found in USA and elsewhere. Not surprisingly, the spelling mistakes are more commonplace in USA than in other English-speaking countries such as Australia, Canada, or Britain.

Some would assume that this is due to the fact that the author hails from Alabama. I would argue otherwise.

Most Americans students simply graduate from high school without knowing how to spell 'em right.

It's true.

Verdict: 7 out of 10 stars


  © Blogger template Shush by Ourblogtemplates.com 2009

Back to TOP