Tuesday, February 21, 2006

11. Fatherland by Robert Harris

Fatherland pictureWell, I'm going in to this post forewarned by jarrett's comment in the last post. I'm very curious to hear why he was so dissapointed by Fatherland. I found it to be a well-written, thoroughly researched and entertaining historical (or faux future-historical) detective story. I'd go so far as to say that the ending actually had some emotional impact.

It's 1964 in an alternate past where the Nazis win the Second World War. The hero is a detective in the Berlin police force (and by default a member of the SS). He is divorced, his son hates him and he's having ambivalent feelings about the Fuhrer. He is called on to investigate a body found in a river bank. An old guy, missing a foot, but in decent shape. Of course, the investigation becomes complex and dangerous, potentially revealing conspiracies at the highest level. I'm not going to go into any of the details of they mystery, because that's what keeps it interesting, but I found it very well done, fitting nicely into the history that we know and being compelling and disturbing in and of itself.

I thought the book really captured that feeling of paranoia and self-censorship that a succesful nazi regime may well have put into place. Everybody has a file. If you're not in several party and social organizations, interest will be paid to you. Another interesting idea, a connection that I hadn't made, is the germans are constantly fighting a war against Russian and Communist partisans on the far eastern front. It's the "Total War" that Hitler postulated as a foundation of National Socialism. The partisans are called terrorists and terror attacks are a constant fear and fundamental part of the state security apparatus. This was written before 9/11 but sure sounds familiar.

A fun read and well thought out.


WeSailFurther said...

Spoilers - sort of.

I was disapppointed by the plot - that he big secret the detective was supposed to be uncovering was so obvious, and consequently boring, that I almost stopped reading once I figured it out.

Second, the story seemed ppretty regular to me. So take out the big secret truth and what do you have? Typical detective with a marriage gone bad but a hot young interesting prospect on the horizon and somehow involved with the solution of the mystery. Gimme a break.

I expect a lot from alt-history. More than I expect of the PA genre. With PA anything can happen as a consequence to the End. But with A-H, the consequences have to make sense. One of the books on this year's list is an alt-history by Harry Turtledove called "Guns of the South" told as if the Confederacy won the war. I want to read it to see what he thinkks would be the consequences, but I am afraid to read it in case it sucks.

I did like that one of Fatherland's plots did not have a happy ending - that the guy did not escape and did not get to leave the country with the girl. Too many books and stories have happy, tidy endings. I want more realism, and in this specific example, Fatherland provided it.

OlmanFeelyus said...

I agree totally that without the alternate history, this was very much a typical detective story. I just find the setting really compelling, that scary fascist society where everyone is potentially a spy. But it's not all bleak like East German, because the Nazis had such spiffy uniforms and were such a bunch of freaks for hierarchies and bureaucracies. So I found the installation of a typical detective story in that world quite enjoyable.

As far as the ending, I did feel a bit of disappointment, but I had kind of figured it out (or strongly suspected) quite early on and I don't see how anything else could be as large and as freaky as that. What kind of conspiracy would fit within the pseudo-reality created and still have the same kind of impact? More, I thought it really reinforced how incredibly horrific and almost unbelievable what actually happened was.

As for Turtledove, maybe you know this, but he is sort of the master of alt-history, having several series, each book of which are dauntingly thick. He has one on WWII and a few others. I'm quite interested, but I don't know if I've got what it takes to get through them!

Anonymous said...

Just read a review for a book called, "Prayers for the Assassin" set in 2040, with an Islamic America - the Christians are jammed into the South. It sounds good, but the thing I find with alt-hist and PA, is that I read it to see what the novelty, or twist, is, even if the sotry itself is no good (see, Fatherland).

And I have "Plot Against America" which is also some kind of alt-hist. But I have no idea what it's about or if it's supposed to be any good.

(Also, both Fatherland and Plot Against America are diffciult to read on the subway because of that big ass swastika. When I read "Nigger of Narcissus" by Joseph Conrad I felt the same way.)

JFederalist said...

You know, I was thinking that a pretty cool alternative history could be written from the pov of one of the sailors in the french fleet in a certain game of diplomacy...or as a rifleman in one of the French armies on the eastern front with germany, ordered this way and that, holding and supporting, being convoyed all over Hasbro's creation...