At the center of the action is Xavier March, homicide investigator with the Nazi SS, applying his detective skills to crack a case quickly spiraling into a complex political drama Along the way March teams up with young attractive American journalist Charlotte Maguire, thus, this Harris tale is not only alternate twentieth century history but a sexy international thriller That s all I intend to say about plot since my specific interest in reading this novel was to see how all the arts are faring in the land of Hitler and the Nazis thirty years after the war To this end, below are some quotes along with my comments The image of the superior blonde, blue eyed Ayran is still alive and kicking We read The press portrayed Reinhard Heydrich as Nietzsche s Superman sprung to life Heydrich in his pilot s uniform he had flown combat missions on the eastern front Heydrich in his fencing gear he had fenced for Germany in the Olympics Heydrich with his violin he could reduce audiences to tears by the pathos of his playing Hitler despised modern music, actually any music other than ninteenth century classical, usually saccharine operas such as The Merry Widowby Franz Leh r Most Nazis in 1964 Germany still share their seventy five year old F hrer s musical taste And, alas, there is mention of a group of young Englishmen from Liverpool with their pernicious Negroid wailings, a clear example of modern degenerate music, singing I Want To Hold Your Hand.
A tour guide talks about the main buildings of the new Berlin to all the foreigners on a tour bus Construction of the Arch of Triumph was commenced in 1946 and work was completed in time for the Day of National Reawakening in 1950 Actually, that appalling monolithic architecture Hitler envisioned, including the 1000 ft Great Hall designed by Albert Speer, a building that can hold 150,000 participants, is very much part of the novel The book s inner cover has a two page drawing of Hitler s main buildings, including Great Hall, Grand Plaza, Hitler Palace and the 400 ft Arch of Triumph.
Other than a slight reference to the subversive novels of such writers as G nter Grass, there isn t that much mention of literature and for good reason this is a tightly controlled police state, similar to Stalinist Russia Any novels or stories that do not adhere to the official party line are deemed subversive, perverted, the products of sick minds Such was the language used by the Nazis when they staged their infamous exhibit of Degenerate Art in 1937.
When main character March enters the office of a leader of the Gestapo, he observes On the walls were prints of Thorak s sculptures herculean figures with gargantuan torsos rolled boulders up steep hills in celebration of the building of the Autobahnen The immensity of Thorak s statuary was a whispered joke Ah, the aesthetics of the Nazis is showing some cracks at the foundation Thorak was a prime Nazi sculptor, one of Hitler s very favorites However, his Nazi versions of cartoon superheroes left many Germans cold back in the 1930s by the 1960s even the Germans in Harris novel could see the silliness of such bloated, muscle bound monstrosities.
And March views the paintings on another wall Schmutzler s Farm Girls Returning from the Fields, Padua s The F hrer Speaks ghastly orthodox muck How about that even a no nonsense, action oriented SS detective judges the official Nazi art as orthodox muck The German Hall of Art right across the street from the exhibit of Degenerate Art featuring such moderns as Marc, Nolde, Kandinsky, Chagall, Grozz exhibited what Hitler decreed as acceptable art In the 1930s many art critics judged this Nazi art as, at best, mediocre and by the 1960s, a clearer vision has reached the man and SS officer in the street all that realist art that Hitler loves is so much schmaltzy crap.
Toward the end of the novel, March and Charlotte Maguire enter an empty elementary school where March makes the observation Childish paintings decorated the walls blue meadows, green skies, clouds of sulfur yellow Children s art was perilously close to degenerate art such perversity would have to be knocked out of them The author did his homework Hitler, an aspiring artist himself as young man so much will so little talent , loathed the expressionists painting grass that was not green, skies that were not blue, clouds that were not white he simply could not enter the imaginative world of a true artist and he would become violent when someone suggested he had provincial, limited tastes.
This is a fascinating novel on a number of levels I focused on the arts since this is one of my main interests and as Frederic Spotts demonstrated in his well researched Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, Hitler valued art as the ultimate end of his world vision In Harris 1964 alternative history, his vision proved to be narrow, lackluster, the product of a totalitarian police state Thank goodness a 1964 Nazi Germany never became a reality.
I am sure it s a question that s been pondered on by countless many, just what if Hitler had really won the war or even worse taken over the planet Would we be in a state of total autocracy , would Companies like and Microsoft be run by the Third Reich , would the gestapo be snooping on emails Or the flip side to that, what if no war at all , what if Hitler, Himmler, Bormann and Goebbels were pacifist jazz musicians and started a quartet , what if Mr and Mrs Hitler senior moved to the south pacific, where a young Adolf swam happily with turtles during his youth When dealing with what if , then the list is pretty much endless.
So then, Robert Harris s Fatherland is speculative fiction that contains historical scenarios based on an alternative pre and post war Europe Taking place in Berlin 1964, it s the upcoming birthday of the F hrer and President Kennedy is also due a visit, it s a Berlin that reminds me of the dull, grey, East Germany of the 1980 s Fatherland is singular in the rigour with which it imagines an alternative history, in which the Greater German Reich stretches from the Low Countries to Russia, other countries are of little interest to the Nation apart from Switzerland, where important people within the Reich dump there treasures or money in secret bank accounts Britain is nothing than a client state America remains in the background.
In this alternative history, Xavier March, a cop, is one of the good guys, despite his SS uniform, and is sent one gloomy morning to a lake on the outskirts of Berlin after a body is discovered, this then turns into a murder investigation as the old man washed up turns out to be a once important Nazi bureaucrat From here the plot thickens, adding deaths, a run in with a hulking Gestapo called Globus who may be involved deeper than March thinks, an American reporter, Charlotte Magiure who becomes his ally, and just like in the movies they end up under the sheets together, along with all the other normal formalities like, who can he trust , can he take beating , and when the chips are down still courageously solve the mystery and become cult status It s chilling in it s depiction of what happened before and after the war, it s thrilling and filled with plenty of tension One thing it isn t, is better than I expected.
Although it kept me on tenterhooks, far too many moments were predictable, and had me almost yelling at the pages no , don t do that or stay away from there , it s obvious what s going to happen It s a tried and tested formula that works, yes, but has been done better in terms of the crime mystery page turning thriller genre I said to myself prior to reading, as long as it s a better read than The Da Vinci Code I would be happy I am happy, not bouncing around with joy happy, just happy.
What do you do, he said, if you devote your life to discovering criminals, and it gradually occurs to you that the real criminals are the people you work forFartherland offers a dismaying vision of what could have been If the Nazis had won world war two, if their power had continued to spread, they would have owned half the world perhaps even all of it if they conquered at the speed they demonstrated in the 1930s Their momentum was near unbelievable The world would be in a terrible state today it would be universally unrecognisable and utterly oppressed Murder, butchery and politicsHitler is still Fuhrer The book opens with his 75th birthday celebration the entirety of Germany is out in celebration of their leader it s a national holiday, one all must celebrate A body is found floating in the dark murky waters of a lake near Berlin It s nothing new, nothing remarkable The Gestapo murder frequently, silencing any who show a lack of patriotism Brutality is everywhere The detective investigating the scene March is about to have his world transformed by the secrets he finds, which threaten to expose his own lacklustre approach to policing a country he has grown to hate March is not a member of the Nazi party he dares not to speak against them at least openly but nor does he care to speak for them Such a thing is as bad as open revolution, in their eyes, so March has always been monitored heavily by the Gestapo they don t trust him or even allow him to advance in his line of profession despite his capabilities The murder investigation thrusts him into a situation where he is forced to consider his actions most carefully his line of inquiry casts into suspicion some rather high ranking officials The cold gaze of the Nazi s intensifies.
It s an impossible situation What would you do Would you risk your life for justice The criminals March is chasing down are way beyond his reach however, he has a duty to perform, a service to the real law and to society But such things have been twisted beyond all recognition the law now protects the Nazis, essentially, allowing them to get away with murder He has a very tricky decision to make, one that will either cost him his life or his morals And the ending we do get is the one I wanted to see it was strong and everything it ought to have been to show exactly how far the world has fallen Harris shows us a grim world that might have been and it s quite scary to think how easily it could have been If Hitler did not decide to attack Russia, forcing his armies to fight on two fronts, and if he did not antagonise the USA, he might have had time to lick his wounds after Europe s conquest and regather his strength before tackling bigger foes Harris provides a grim, cold, mechanical vision of society that would have followed in such an aftermath of Hitler s absolute victory Once this has been read it, certainly, cannot be un read I finished this back in 2013, and I still remember the entrapped noir feel the streets oozed with.
History Study and science of past events, of evolution Relationship of facts, past events concerning life of humanity, society, person, etc Fiction Creation, the invention of imaginary, unreal things created in this way.
Uchronia A gender that is based on the principle of rewriting history from the modification of a past event On Tuesday, April 14, 1964, Berlin slowly began to get into full swing Indeed, in less than a week, the capital of the Great German Empire is about to celebrate the 65th anniversary of Adolf Hitler For his part, the Sturmbannfurher SS Xavier March witnessed the usual findings of the discovery of the body of Dr Josef Bohler, doctor of law, who had come out of the waters of the Havel Soon we get agitated in the corridors of the Schutzstaffel For Dr Bohler was a spawning ground of the regime Secretary of State of the General Government who managed Poland from 1939 to 1952 territory still part of the Great Empire His death could hardly pass for suicide and March being an inspector conscientious, the investigation begins.
And it continues as the Gestapo shows its proverbial zeal to recover the case and put an end to it in its particular style of gentleness and measure Before Bohler, the former Honorary SS Obergruppenfehrer Wilhelm Stuckard was killed, eminent Secretary of State at the Ministry of the Interior, known for his Commentary on German Racial Laws 1936 Are these deaths related What are they hiding What is the Gestapo trying to hide Questions that a prominent member of the SS is ordered not to ask But March belongs to this body only by the administrative mechanism that dresses any German police officer of the brown shirt So little Nazi that his wives and sons, pure products of state indoctrination, separated from him He will continue his investigations in spite of his orders and uncover the darkest hours of a regime that was to last a thousand years according to the wishes of his leaderTo those who are connoisseurs of this period and who seek curiosity in its treatment, I would point out that Messrs Buhler and Stockard as historical figures participated in the Wannsee Conference in 1942.
To those for whom the reference is obscure it is in every sense of the word they will discover here a part of history mixed with fictional history.
Nothing is true and yet everything seems so real We feverishly follow the developments of the investigations of this ordinary inspect in the meanderings of this despicable regime His wishes are called for his success and the triumph of truth How can we say without revealing the plot Imprisoned as we are by history, but well liberated by History.
The question of the relevance of this book arises, however History is here, terrible Seeking to unravel the historical truth of fictional narrative could lead to a distance A temptation to mitigate the horrors of reality by making them look like the product of the author s imagination I affirm here forcefully, the naked truth exceeds the worst of imaginations History is only a pale reflection of history One should encourage an interest in the Other By raising questions about the real and the fictional, we maintain the memory of this dark period that must never be forgotten Sometimes it seems like every Tom, Phillip K Dick, and Harry Turtledove wrote books that asked what would have happened if Hitler won the war It s 1964 and Germany is preparing to celebrate Hitler s 75th birthday Police detective Xavier March is called in when a body is pulled out of a river, and he soon discovers that the dead man was a prominent member of the Nazi party March s investigation eventually leads him to secrets going back to the war that his government is desperate to keep buried.
So yes, this is another book about the most asked question in alternate history What if the Nazis won World War II But by framing this as mystery thriller Robert Harris has taken a different approach to it by using March as tour guide of a victorious Germany We eventually have the bigger picture of what the rest of the world is like, and there are some interesting elements like the US did fight and defeat Japan yet Europe is Nazi controlled so that America and Germany have had an extended Cold War.
While the details of the world are well done this is really of a story about what life would be like in this society It s all well ordered prosperity on the surface, but the police state nature of it all lurks just below the surface with the average citizen s paranoia encouraged by the government to keep them fearful and obedient.
March is an interesting character in this as a man who did his part in the war on board a U boat, but he doesn t much like the SS uniform he wears now He reminded me a lot of the series by Martin Cruz Smith about Russian detective Arkady Renko Like Renko, March is a basically good man who knows he s working for a bad system, but he s too cynical to think of trying to change it Instead he just tries to find what justice he can even as he still has too much integrity to entirely go along with the program which is something that the true believers can sense and hate.
This all sounds like a 4 or 5 star book, especially in the capable hands of Robert Harris, but unfortunately it s one of those where I liked the idea of it than the actual finished product This alternate world is intriguing and well thought out, and March is an interesting lead character, but the actual plot just seems kind of flat and obvious You can tell much of what s coming for a good long while so there s not much suspense or shock to it.
One thing Germany does not have is Jews No one knows what happened to them There are whispered rumors, but no one knows for sure Like Hitler once predicted, the Nazis got away with it.
In this Germany, Xavier March is a homicide cop called to investigate a body pulled from the river It s not an usual occurrence, except this victim turns out to be a powerful party member Then another high ranking Nazi is murdered and another has disappeared In his investigation, March finds himself on the wrong side of the Gestapo His only chance to escape a concentration camp, or worse, is to find the missing Nazi He teams up with an American journalist and together they undercover the Riech s most dangerous buried secret.
I loved this book s world building I think sometimes alt history books can be very heavy handed, and writers give into the temptation to info dump to impress upon the reader the creativity of their alt world vision Robert Harris is restrained, leaking details slowly and purposely Readers start to feel like they live in this reality where Germany won WWII.
The mystery in this book is based on real history the 1942 Wannsee Conferrence, when 14 men gathered around a table and casually decided to send all of Europe s Jews to their deaths For those interested in the history, I highly recommend the 2001 HBO movie Conspiracy, which is a reenactment of that conference And I m not recommending this just because Colin Firth is in it, but it doesn t hurt.
This is my first Robert Harris book, but it won t be my last.
Fatherland Is Set In An Alternative World Where Hitler Has Won The Second World War It Is April And One Week Before Hitler S Th Birthday Xavier March, A Detective Of The Kriminalpolizei, Is Called Out To Investigate The Discovery Of A Dead Body In A Lake Near Berlin S Most Prestigious Suburb As March Discovers The Identity Of The Body, He Uncovers Signs Of A Conspiracy That Could Go To The Very Top Of The German Reich And, With The Gestapo Just One Step Behind, March, Together With An American Journalist, Is Caught Up In A Race To Discover And Reveal The Truth A Truth That Has Already Killed, A Truth That Could Topple Governments, A Truth That Will Change History A murder in 1960s Nazi Germany draws one Berlin detective into a greater mystery than he could have ever imagined Or could he The great thing about Fatherland is that Robert Harris doesn t try to do too much with the counterfactual history It s definitely there, of course, but the reader discovers it naturally as fictional historical details come up in the flow of the novel There is no heavy handed explanation of how this alternate history diverged from the history we know, no listing of all the important differences as a result of that divergence, etc And that leaves the reader wanting to know , excited whenever details are revealed The fact that the novel also features a great story that is interesting both on its own and in relation to this counterfactual history also helps, of course.
Can you read a book too many times Well, I have to admit that this is the seventh time I ve read Fatherland I still thinks it s as fresh as when I first read it over twenty years ago The story just seems to grip me from first page to last Harris seamlessly blends fact fiction as his thriller takes us through Berlin in 1964 in the week leading up to Adolf Hitler s 75th birthday This alternative history is so believable without being cliched the characters are as much of a focus as the setting I urge anyone to read this novel who has not done so already However, if lack of time prevents you doing this there is also an excellent audio version read by a Werner Klemperer, a very good full cast BBC audio version a gripping TV movie starring the ever dependable Rutger Hauer I wonder if there s a format I ve not experienced this on