~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~
Imagine that Germany has won World War II. The Third Reich has absorbed many countries and extends all the way to the Caspian Sea. Berlin is the largest city in the world with ten million people, filled with magnificent monuments and buildings. German military might has never been equaled anywhere in the world. Adolf Hitler is 75 years old. He is revered as a God. His birthday is a national holiday called Reichstag. This is the “alternate history” premise of Fatherland, a novel by Robert Harris.
Xavier March is the principal character of Fatherland. He is a police inspector. Though a member of the “establishment,” he is a less-than-enthusiastic party man. He is always under suspicion. His ex-wife and his ten-year old son have both denounced him.
When the body of a high-ranking Nazi, Josef Buhler, is found on the banks of the Havre River outside Berlin, the plot is set in motion. As Xavier March investigates the death of Josef Buhler, he uncovers a conspiracy: Nazi Party officials are systematically being murdered. What do these men know, what did they see, and why are they being “removed?” Xavier March is the perfect police investigator to find out the answers because he isn’t a very good party member anyway. A truly loyal investigator would scuttle what he discovers and make sure the world never knows.
Divorced as he is, Xavier March needs a love interest. This is where Charlotte “Charlie” Maguire enters the scene. She is an American journalist. She and Xavier March make the romantic perfect pair to investigate the mystery. After many twists and turns, the two make a startling discovery: the Nazis who are being murdered all attended the Wannsee Conference in 1942, in which the “Final Solution” of the Jews was planned. The world doesn’t know about the Final Solution. It is a closely guarded secret that was never supposed to be made public.
Fatherland by Robert Harris is a (rather tedious at times) detective story (not exactly Agatha Christie, though). We have bad Nazis doing terrible things. (Are there ever any good Nazis?) We have an unseen Adolf Hitler, adored by his people. His birthday is a national holiday lasting several days. Our main character, Xavier March, is an individualist, and we know that individualism doesn’t go over very well with Nazis. Our message to him is this: Get out of Nazi Germany if you want to go on living.
The thing I liked best about Fatherland is the unreal quality of Nazi Germany having won the war and lording it over the whole world. In the alternative reality of Fatherland, Berlin is unequaled anywhere in the world for splendor and magnificence. In reading Fatherland, I was reminded of another alternate-history story, The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth, in which right-winger and Nazi appeaser Charles Lindberg becomes President of the United States in 1940, meaning that America never enters the war. After Lindbergh screws up the entire country, the lefties move in and save the day, however. This is truly alternate reality.
Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp