By Robert Harris
Earlier in the week, we introduced you to a really first-rate, must-read alternate history and holocaust novel, A Man Lies Dreaming. This superb novel features a pulp detective novel with Hitler as an angry private dick. It’s really an escapism mechanism for Shomer, an Auschwitz prisoner. The following is also a mystery, this with a 1964 Nazi Germany as background. Included also are comments on some other alternate history novels you might enjoy.
Days before the national celebration of Adolf Hitler’s 75th birthday, Sturmbannführer Xavier March catches a call meant for his partner to investigate a body found in the Havel. March, while disaffected from the Reich, divorced over what his ex considers his seditious attitude, and generally unhappy with everything, including his grandiose beat, Berlin, discovers the body is that of a high-ranking Nazi. Simultaneously, the government announces the late summer visit of American president Joseph Kennedy (the ambassador is Charles Lindbergh, both sympathizers in the run up to WWII in real history) and possible detente between the two world powers. As March races to solve the murder–and others related to a shared event in the past, before Hitler’s birthday celebration, his discontented life finds new meaning and a new passion in the person of American journalist Charlie Maguire.
Fatherland is a terrific, fast-paced thriller set against the landscape of an alternative end to World War II. And it’s this imagined new world order that sets the book apart from most thrillers.
In 1964, Hitler is an old man, as are many of his cronies. Speer has built much of his and Hitler’s dreamed of monumental Berlin. Germans enjoy prosperity, though many live in fear. The surviving European nations (Germany has absorbed most of Eastern Europe), including France and England, serve as vassal states. Germany’s eastern borders extend beyond Moscow. But true peace eludes the empire as the Soviets, supplied by the U.S., conduct an endless guerrilla war against Germany. And the Reich hasn’t changed much, remaining brutally repressive and virulently anti-Semitic, though no one can find a Jew in Berlin, or anywhere else in the expanded Germany.
The book provides many pleasures, not the least Harris’s slow feeding to the reader of the new world within the context of the thriller tale. The secret March uncovers, the reason for the murders reaching back to the early 50s, proves worth waiting for, especially in light of certain modern fringe disbeliefs. You’ll understand if you read the book.
Alternate history as a genre has an extensive and ancient pedigree, extending, by some accounts, to Roman times. If it interests you, simply search Alternate History on Amazon. Your search will return pages of offerings. Some notables include Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America (wherein Lindbergh wins the presidency and anti-Semitism becomes the rule of the day), Ward Moore’s highly regarded Bring the Jubilee (in which the Confederacy won the Civil War and incorporated Central and South America), and Philip Dick’s remarkable and highly recommended The Man in the High Castle (Japan and Germany won WWII; features an alternative history within the alternative history for extra head spinning). w/c