I had read Harris’ Pompeii before and had found the setting fascinating. So the first thing that drew me to Fatherland was the setting – an alternate history world where the Nazis had won the war. And pretty soon, you realize that in Xavier March, you have a hero in SS uniform who stumbles upon one of humanity’s greatest kept secret, a secret always suspected but one so horrible that its almost impossible to believe!!!
If the setting is fascinating, so is the pace of the story.
As March gets deeper and deeper into a conspiracy that is the very foundation of the Third Reich, you get a glimpse of the world that would have been if the Wehrmacht had not been stopped at the gates of Stalingrad. A world where Albert Speer got to design Germany the way he wanted to, a world where Third Reich seems all set to fulfil the prophesy of Hitler of being a “Thousand year Reich”, a world where Europe is under the rule of the swastika and the eagle, where Churchill and the queen live in exile, a world where Goering dies of natural causes and Heydrich still lives and Stalin fights an endless guerrilla war on the edges of what was once the Soviet Empire. A world where Jews have disappeared and Slavs work as maids and gardeners.
Its 1964 and its a Cold War and its between Germany and USA and the president of USA, a Kennedy is on a detente visit to the Reich. The reclusive Fuhrer’s birthday is about a week away. A body is fished out one early morning and Xavier March is called in to investigate. So starts a story that ends up much bigger that anyone could have imagined. March, a member of the SS, who is not exactly the ideal National Socialist is a man who needs an excuse to turn rebel and this is a chance he gets as the story unfolds.
This is a story which is in many ways similar to Orwell’s 1984, in that the state has become like Big Brother, except the level of technological surveillance has not not quite peaked yet (and unlike the terrifying spirit breaking world of 1984, the Third Reich simply kills you). March is similar to Winston Smith, with an undercurrent of rebellion and like Smith, March is lonely and desperate to seek even a glimpse of an alternate world.
What Harris does splendidly is that he creates an alternative world that is completely believable (Germany was close to getting an atom bomb at one time and them getting it is the turning point in this history). The way Hitler’s Germany permeated social life is shown here as it was – a society where children were taught that their loyalty lay first with the state and not with their parents.
And I loved the portrayal of March – like Andrei Taganov in “We the Living”, he is a tragic hero who may have once believed but slowly and irrevocably becomes disillusioned and in case of March, actively commits subversion against the state.
And I loved the ending – thank God it did not have a clichéd Hollywood ending, would have spoilt the whole feel of the book…
This is one book that may not have the power of 1984 but its not meant to be a social commentary. This is a book that is supposed to thrill you and set you to turn your pages. This the book does fantastically. You get to love the story, you get close to March and if you have even a passing interest in history, you would love the setting. Cheering for one of the SS is not something you can do everyday!!!
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