25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 25 November 2003
In the Presence of Mine Enemies is, quite clearly, the most personal book of Turtledove's career. I must say the action is both slow and muted and, in a heightening of Turtledove's inimitable style, all the 'action' and 'major events' are off-page, that is, they are represented through the thoughts and discussions of the characters. For all this, I have to say the sheer emotion poured into this book by Turtledove is not only engrossing but sweeps you up too. I was hooked and could hardly put the book down (despite my 4 star rating - reasons later) despite having a very busy time with my work. I made the time to read this book and, if you read it, you will too. The tightening of narrative focus into a half dozen characters concentrates Turtledove's ... dare I say it ... genius from his 'Cast of Thousands' novels (Great War and World War Series & Colonization series) beautifully making the emotion and the reading all the more compelling. Reading this book is like taking a personalised walk with Turtledove through 2010's Alternate might-have-been Berlin, 80 years into the Thousand Year Reich. This book is so powerful, I as reading it at home and my wife, noting my scowl, kept asking me if I was alright, my less than indicative response of "F------- Nazis!" was fairly explanatory in a broad sense, and a testament to Turtledove's skill, style and bravery, to be fair.
Downsides: (1) American pre-occupation with the 'poor state' of British teeth - After the third mention within 6 pages I remember thinking: Turtledove, let it go! What *IS* it with Americans and our teeth?
(2) Every AH book I've read on the Nazis-winning-the-world-war (Except 'Fatherland') theme seems to view the Nazis as, eventually, softening and moving towards a Democracy, getting less harsh and dealing with the 'errors' in judgement they had - this I began thinking was (to an extent) no exception and my heart sank - why do people want to apologise, even indirectly, for these people? Turtledove's 'borrowing' from Soviet history is, unfortunately, less than inspired - why not go for Roman History? Democracy becomes Plutocracy becomes Dictatorship. Why assume governments will soften and democratise? Hence only 4 stars. However Turtledove does have a sting in his tale...
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 5 June 2005
I'm sorry but this is one of the most boring Turtledove books I have read - I've got a shelf full of them! It's an extension of a short story first published in 1992 and should have stayed that - short! Ok the characters are deep and rounded but when they start going on about bridge games I just wanted to skip chapter after chapter - enough to induce the Z'ds big time! Do yourself a big favour and buy Departures by HT, let your own imagination go and save yourself five quid.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 8 January 2004
In the Presence of Mine Enemies allows Turtledove to take a break from his other series and do a self-contained novel set in the normally cliched world where the Germans won World War II and are dominating everything. I say "normally cliched" because Turtledove actually does a good job of making it seem fresh and interesting. It is the early 21st Century. The Germans and the Japanese won the war, cities in the USA were nuked in a second conflict after the European one ended, making the United States agree to be subjugated, paying tribute money every year to Berlin. Everybody figures that the next war will be against Japan for final control of the world, but for now an uneasy peace settles between the two empires.
Jews have been eliminated from most of Europe, but like the cockroaches the Germans in this novel think they are, hidden infestations are everywhere, including right under there noses. This provides most of the story, as we are told of a society of hidden Jews who are working amidst every-day Germans in Berlin and elsewhere. The main character, Heinrich Gimpel, works for the Wehrmacht (the German army) as the man in charge of keeping tabs on the American money that gets sent to Berlin every year. At the beginning of the book, the ritualistic revealing of the family Jewish secrets to 10-year-old Alicia Gimpel occurs. When the parents think they are ready, their ancestry is revealed and they are absorbed into the conspiracy of silence. The children have to adjust to the raging anti-Semitism around them as well as changing their own feelings, because they have been indoctrinated with all of the anti-Jewish hate and must learn that they are the people who most other Germans consider the devil.
Turtledove does an excellent job of telling the intensely personal story of this family along with the story of massive political change in Germany. Momentous events around the world sit beside the normal affairs and other personal problems that we all have, not to mention the secrets that the Gimpels and their friends are hiding. While sometimes kept to the background of the story, the specter of their ancestry is always hanging over them, even as events move to perhaps eventually allow them to admit in public what they've hidden for generations. Even when Turtledove seems to forget that aspect of the story as he tells of the politics (especially toward the end of the book), something often comes to the forefront as a harsh reminder of just what's at stake. Heinrich is caught up in the political changes but has to guard himself, lest he reveal their secrets in a rushed reaction to the world changing around him. He knows that with one misstep, extermination awaits him and his family.
I was really impressed with the economy of viewpoint characters Turtledove uses. He uses the three Gimpels who are aware of the secret (two younger children don't know, which provides a lot of the conflict for Alicia, as she can't tell them but has to put up with, in silence, the anti-Semitic statements made by them) along with three other Jews who are in their circle of friends. With these characters, he is able to tell their story, a story of political change, as well as the deeply personal story of a troubled marriage and the effects it has on the Gimpels as Heinrich becomes the object of affection for a frustrated wife. Usually, Turtledove has so many characters that it's hard to keep them straight. I have always felt that this is probably why Turtledove insists on introducing them constantly almost every time they appear in the book. However, that reasoning must be faulty, because there are only six of them and he still insists on doing that. It became very aggravating.
One thing I did find amazing is that Turtledove does manage to avoid most of the pitfalls his books usually fall in to. Sure, there is the introduction of characters mentioned above, but at least Turtledove makes every one of them interesting. It's almost heart-breaking watching Alicia struggle with the new knowledge she has gained, having to silently accept all of the statements made against her new-found people by her younger sisters as well as everybody in school. She finds it incredibly hard to absorb this new information and not reveal it to others through actions or, worse, inaction. Your nerves actually clench a little bit when the fighting between Heinrich's friend Willi and his wife Elena almost results in an affair that could jeopardize not only Heinrich's marriage but also accidentally reveal their secret. There are no useless characters in this one, and even the minor characters attract the reader's interest just enough to not be annoying. Turtledove also avoids the gratuitous, badly-written love scene. He effectively fades to black a couple of times and even the one that he does include doesn't concentrate on the details. I applaud him for this, as it really has been a weakness of his in the books that I've read.
His prose is still wooden enough to give a woodpecker a woody, but it's not too bad this time around, probably because he's avoided most of his other problems. The climax of the book, while pulse-pounding as change sweeps through Germany, is so obviously a copy of the fall of another Evil Empire that it becomes very predictable. It's to Turtledove's credit that he makes the book interesting despite this, though by this time you have enough invested in the characters that you want to keep reading despite knowing what's going to happen. Inertia perhaps?
In the Presence of Mine Enemies is an excellent book of alternate history, and probably the best book I've read by him. Give it a shot, even if you've found his other series to be a waste of time. This one isn't.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 14 September 2012
An imaginative premise - we are 70 years after WWII and in Berlin, and Germany won. A few Jews have survived but must not reveal their race to anyone but another Jew if they are to survive. Meanwhile, the German Empire selects its next Furher, while the Union of Fascists that rules a conquered Britain debates how, according to Hitlers own writings, he should be chosen.
All potentially thrilling. But in this writers hands it is not. Endless descriptions of childhood arguments, of the all encompassing fear being Jewish entails (conveyed by saying how afraid they feel), umpteen bus journeys, buying a paper, eating lunch and , worst of all, pointless descriptions of games of Bridge (I kid you not).
I can see what the author is trying to do - build up the characters, paint a picture of family life, involve us with the characters emotions. He fails, totally. And in the end merely bores us.
I was going to give this 2 stars but it is really too bad for that. Dull, predictable, poorly written. One of the fuhrers is called Kurt Haldweim (geddit?) !And the plot, such as it is, soon becomes recognisable for what it is - Gorbachev, Yeltsin and the end of communism just transposed to a Germany that won the war!
Whereas we might have had a fascinating exposition of a fascist society at the the end of the 20th century, a chilling tale of fear, a profoundly moving alternative history, this is none of those. It could have been fast-paced and enthralling, but it is just slow and boring.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This is probably my favourite Turtledove novel of the ones I have so far read. The setting is Berlin in a Third Reich that in 2010 covers much of the Eurasian landmass and the United States. The main characters are some of the very few surviving Jews who have lasted so long only by totally concealing their identities, not only from the authorities but also from their own neighbours and even from dear friends and other family members. The novel creates a very stark and believable atmosphere of repression and the horror of Jews knowing that even close friends would wish them dead if they knew of their racial identity.
The course of the plot follows attempts at limited reform within the Nazi system following the coming to power of Heinz Buckliger as Fuhrer, the first of the new generation born after the original Nazi seizure of power and the Second World War. The parallel here is clearly with Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union with his perestroika and glasnost, attempts to democratise the system from within. Rolf Stolle, the Gauleiter of Berlin in this novel, is clearly the Boris Yeltsin of this world, pushing the leader on to reform faster and more deeply, but with his own character flaws (Yeltsin was also originally appointed the first secretary of the Moscow Communist Party for the early period of Gorbachev's rule, so occupies a very similar hierarchical position as Stolle). I wasn't surprised when Buckliger was overthrown in a coup while on holiday and returned after the coup was crushed, having lost moral authority to Stolle, mirroring the Soviet events of August 1991.
As with other Turtledove novels, while a good writer, he does hammer small character points repeatedly, to the point of minor irritation. While understandable in the context of Jews constantly fearing discovery and exposure, it is particularly annoying in the case of the doctor whose inability to use a coffeemaker is hammered home in every scene in his surgery in which he appears.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2003
Almost every talented science fiction writer has been unable to resist at least a short-story about the ghastly question of what the world would have been like if Hitler had won WWII.
The first chapter or so of this book was originally written as a short story, and was first published some years ago in one of Turtledove's short story collections. Turtledove has now extended the short story into a full length novel.
Until now, far and away the best "What if the nazis had won" story was "Fatherland" by Robert Harris, but "In the presence of mine enemies" is in the same class. Harris has the edge in the meticulous quality of his research and the historical detail which made his novel chillingly believable: Turtledove wins points for his grasp of the sweep of history and how a fascist regime might have had to cope with the same pressures which a changing world presented to other totalitarian regimes.
And in telling his story through the eyes of a small group of Jews who have survived by posing as Aryans, he brings home to you what it must have been like to be a Jew hiding in the 1000 year Reich, knowing that one mistake would doom not just yourself but every member of your family.
Turtledove does not forget the seriousness of the subject - the book is dedicated to people who "helped ensure that this is alternate history" - but he displays a wicked sense of humour in suggesting what positions certain real-world modern politicians might have held in a world run by the nazis. When you read about the chairman of the British Union of Fascists, ask yourself which real world British politican of about the same age and description has the name of this character as his middle names - and unless you are one of the dwindling band of New Labour supporters you'll probably fall about laughing.
He also has fun creating the Nazi equivalents of Gorbachov and Boris Yeltsin ...
One of Harry Turtledove's other books was criticised as containing the same events as real history but with different actors. There's some truth in that, and the point certainly does apply to this book. However, even though most people will spot the parallels, Turtledove leaves you uncertain until almost the last page whether things will turn out the same way as happened to a certain totalitarian empire in real history. I couldn't put this book down.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 4 July 2005
Having Jews secretly surviving in the alternate Nazi empire is an interesting and well- executed twist on the old alt.history cliche, but Turtledove yet again fails to come up with any alternative history - just retreads of the real thing. Just as the Jake Featherstone saga follows Hitler's career to the letter so the fall of the Nazi empire follows the fall of the USSR. To the letter. As soon as I read that the Fuhrer and his wife were off on holiday in Croatia I knew exactly what would ensue, and lo, it did. This kind of killed the suspense. Oh, and I could have seriously done without the blow-by-blow accounts of bridge games. Three stars for the idea, but shoddy plotting.
3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 19 May 2004
Turtledove hits more than he misses with this volume, but the buildup at times seems incredibly slow and it took me a while to get through the first half. One of Turtledove's weaknesses is normally the rounding out of characters, but this book he pulls it off quite well. The Gimpel family, from father Heinrich to daughter Alicia are well thought-out and described, with their fears and hopes for the future intermingled with the appropriate amount of hesitation and skepticism for their ages and situations. The action, when it is there, is done with typical aplomb and is where Turtledove shines. However, the recountnace of the bridge games and the other Jews of the story felt a little down to me. Once the screws of the dictatorship society begin to unspool does the book make its real mark. 7 out of 10.
1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 7 April 2005
For me, this is the best book by Harry Turtledove so far.
The characterisation is believable and the plot moves along nicely.
Turtledove has some interesting things to say about facism and how such a society might evolve.
I enjoyed it , and stayed up late( too late) to finish it.