We live in soul-harrowing times.
So much anxiety, so much terror. Sometimes I feel as if my heart is being broken every time I watch the news. Hatred, violence, bigotry and sadism seem to dominate our news screens and streams. I fear for my children and for our world.
A few years ago, I wrote a novel set in the underground resistance to Hitler in Nazi Germany.
I spent months researching World War II, its causes and consequences, its horror and heroism. I had been fascinated by the period ever since I was a little girl and read ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ for the first time. As I grew up, I read many hundreds of books about resistance and defiance and have long wanted to write one. At last this desire became urgent. It is important, I thought, to remember the past so we can do not make the same terrible mistakes again.
The whole time I was writing ‘The Beast’s Garden’, I kept thinking to myself – what would I do if it was me?
My heroine Ava is not sent to spy school or taught how to shoot a machine gun. She is just an ordinary young woman, living in extraordinary times. She lives with her father and her sisters, she wants to be a singer, she hopes one day to fall in love. But Ava lives in Berlin in 1938. The German people had just voted Hitler into power, hoping he will make good on his promises of more work and new political stability. Many people think Hitler is just a clown, or a bumbling fool. Sure, he shouts a lot and his followers seem like thugs. But how much harm could one man do?
What awful irony.
The Beast’s Garden begins on Kristallnacht with the words: “Ava fell in love the night the Nazis first showed their true faces to the world.”
It is a novel about the importance of courage and resistance, and the importance of kindness and compassion. It tells the true and largely untold story of the German underground resistance who paid for their defiance with their lives.
I hope that none of us ever have to see the kind of darkness and horror that saw Anne Frank die in a concentration camp.
My writing of The Beast’s Garden was, in a way, a call to arms. Please, let us all stand up against hatred and bigotry and racism and cruelty in every way we can. Let’s write and create art and protest and point out the terrible mistakes of the past again and again, until we learn from them. Please.