Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Book #33 Fatherland by Robert Harris


Length Of Time In Possession : 4 weeks

Fatherland, by Robert Harris alongside Laurent Binet's HHhH was my book clubs choice this month.

The novel takes place in an alternate universe in which Germany and not the UK/USA won World War 2. It is now the mid Sixties, Adolf Hitler is still the Fuhrer and the nation is gearing up to celebrate his 75th birthday. In the midst of this, policeman Xavier March is on hand when a corpse is discovered and from there, uncovers a dark conspiracy.

I found myself slightly frustrated with Fatherland. The concept of a Nazi victory is a really interesting idea, particularly from the perspective of the victorious nations, the UK and the USA and how those countries and thus the globe in itself would have differed as a result.  England and most of Europe under German rule, no setting up of the United Nations, no Israel etc. Fatherland however is not that book.

Instead the focus is Germany itself, and what is Germany like under a German victory? Well, exactly what it was like during war and pre-war Nazi Germany, obviously! The Germany depicted actually feels like post-war East Germany which fell to Communists and the Secret Police as depicted in the wonderful 2006 film The Lives Of Others.  It's hard to not see this as an opportunity wasted. Instead the focus on the impact on Germany itself feels rather self-explanatory, than in any way exploring something new.


The changes in the world mentioned aren't exactly that major or delved into in any way. Joe Kennedy, John F Kennedy's father became President instead, Heydrich survived his assassination attempt, the Nazis bombed New York and then became the Cold War opponents, Russia and the US are allies. These aren't really spoilers of Fatherland, as each is only mentioned in the briefest passing.
 In the end the central conceit of Fatherland is that policeman Xavier March uncovers a conspiracy to cover up what the Germans did during the Final Solution and is rocked by the revelation of the Holocaust.

This entire premise is laughable on pretty much every level.

Firstly, the Nazis weren't the least bit ashamed of their solution to "the Jewish question", didn't consider Jews fully human, and thought they were absolutely doing the right thing. So the idea that they would try and hush it up on either a national or international level is bogus.

Secondly, the presupposition is apparently that by removing the 12 architects of the Final Solution, Heydrich eliminates the proof that it ever even happened. This is stupid beyond words. What about the 100s of SS officers who worked in those camps? The doctors, the train drivers, the local agents who rounded people up, and then by extension their families and friends. They all knew what was going on. Likewise the SS WAGs of whom there are many astonishing pictures. What about the Vel d'Hiv round up in Paris? That wasn't even the Germans it was the French police!!!!
Many Jews got out both to the UK and to the US and Canada, before the supposed Nazi victory. It was known, and in a widespread way.

Thirdly, through March there is this notion that the 'average German' believed the lie that the Jews had en masse been deported to Russia, and any disquiet they felt they kept quiet about.  This is like saying that across Germany millions of adults believed their parents that their dog was happily living on a farm, when it was in fact dead. Many 'average Germans' (and Dutch and French) risked and lost their lives hiding Jews in their homes. Why? Because they knew they were getting killed en masse that's why!!!!

So expecting anyone to believe any of this is balderdash and the entire concept holds no water.

A disappointment.  

Verdict : 5/10

Destination : Charity Shop  

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