Thursday, 9 June 2016

Currently Reading: Fatherland by Robert Harris, 1992

Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books over at Patti Abbott's blog Pattinase.

Berlin, April 1964. Nazi Germany has won World War II. Adolf Hitler is alive and about to celebrate his 75th birthday. JFK's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, is President of the United States. Edward VIII is King of England. And a Cold War is brewing between the Third Reich and America.

Detective Xavier March of the Kriminalpolizei, or Kripo, is investigating the suicide or murder of a senior Nazi official whose naked body is fished out of Havel River on the outskirts of Berlin. The victim was one of the participants at the Wannsee Conference, held to gain political traction over America. March uncovers a sinister plot to eliminate the other participants which, I think, puts our protagonist on a collision course with the top echelons of the Reich.

The Wannsee Conference was actually held in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee in January 1942. The meeting was called by Reinhard Heydrich, director of the Reich Main Security Office and one of the key architects of the Holocaust, to discuss "a final solution to the Jewish question." Heydrich, who figures in the book, was second to Heinrich Himmler in the SS.


Alternative history raises fascinating, and sometimes provoking, questions. Fatherland, the debut novel of noted English novelist and former journalist Robert Harris, weaves his 352-page crime-thriller around one of the most debated what-if scenarios—what if Nazi Germany had won WWII and Hitler were alive and ruling long after the war?

I have read only a few pages of the book so far and I'm already drawn in by Harris' fine narrative, both engrossing and darkly entertaining. In a way Fatherland, particularly the opening pages, has shades and starkness of Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park—picture Xavier March as Arkady Renko, post-war Berlin as Moscow, the discovery of a dead body (or bodies) in a public place, the Gestapo as KGB, and a government conspiracy to keep the investigation under wraps. This is my first impression.

Fatherland is first and foremost a detective-crime story. But what a setting in terms of scale and innovation! I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the book.

In 1994, HBO made a TV movie based on the film. Rutger Hauer played the role of SS-Sturmbannf├╝hrer Xavier March.

Robert Harris specialises in historical fiction and has authored nearly a dozen such novels. His upcoming thriller, Conclave, slated for a September release, is "set over 72 hours in the Vatican" and follows "the election of a fictional Pope."

18 comments:

  1. Oh, this does sound interesting, Prashant. I've actually heard some terrific things about the novel, and it certainly brings up some big questions. That's one thing I like about alternative history fiction: there are all sorts of possibilities for exploration.

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    1. Margot, I discovered Robert Harris and his work quite recently and ever since I have been meaning to read at least one of his novels. I'm enjoying this particular book, also because it's alternative history.

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  2. I read this as a teenager and it really captured my imagination. I liked it well enough that I still have a copy of it on my bookshelf.

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    1. Ben, I went through the other Robert Harris titles and found them all very intriguing. I'm definitely going to read more by the author.

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    1. Oscar, I like alternative history and this one is set around one of my favourite subjects, WWII and the Third Reich.

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  4. Prashant – Nice review. I have heard of this book. Others have speculated on Hitler escaping and living in South America. Scary stuff.

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    1. Thank you, Elgin. I'm still reading the book and so far it's holding up really well. I read about Hitler's escape to South America, one of many speculative stories.

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  5. Glad you're enjoying it, Prashant. I've only read The Ghost from Harris which I enjoyed.

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    1. Thanks, Col. I will be reading some of his other titles too and "The Ghost" sounds like a good thriller.

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  6. Glad you enjoyed this one Prashant - I would really recommend Len Deighton's SS-GB, which takes a similar idea and does wonders with it.

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    1. Sergio, I might have read SS-GB in my youth. That was the period when I was on a Deighton high, along with other popular fiction writers. I'd like to compare the two novels, though.

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  7. Great minds think alike! While you're reading FATHERLAND, I've been reading Robert Harris's DICTATOR. I've read most of Robert Harris's work. He's a terrific writer!

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    1. George, he is a "terrific writer," I agree. I find his narrative style effortless and yet very gripping. I also like the sound of all his novels, the trilogy-based DICTATOR being one of them.

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  8. I have this one to read, and I enjoyed Robert Harris's ENIGMA. I haven't read Deighton's SS-GB that Sergio suggests, but it is on my list and my husband liked it.

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    1. Tracy, I'm impressed by FATHERLAND and I will have no hesitation in reading some of Robert Harris' other titles. I need to start reading Len Deighton again. Your reviews of his books have revived my interest.

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  9. I haven't read this or anything by Harris in a long while, but Fatherland sounds like a winner, Prashant. You also mentioned another of my favorite authors, Martin Cruz Smith, whom I haven't read in a while, either.

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    1. Mathew, FATHERLAND is turning out to be a winner. It is a solid thriller, if I may put it that way. I have a couple of Cruz Smith novels, unread as yet, that I hope to read soon. I enjoyed GORKY PARK though I wouldn't want to live out Renko's era.

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