on 4 August 2003
I bought this book to read on a train journey home a few years ago. The journey lasted about an hour and a half, but I finally put the book down after reading the final word of the final page at 4am the next morning. Apart from showing my ticket to the conductor I don't think I talked to anyone in between. I was hooked. I even ignored the pretty brunette sat opposite me. Set in 1964, with Hitler having won the war and ruling over a Greater German Reich, a German policeman investigates a supposedly routine death and ends up uncovering a secret that some people will go to any length to protect. A great read that will leave an impact on you years after your first read.
I have read a few of the author’s books, and enjoyed them immensely (including Pompeii, and An Officer and a Spy). I am waiting eagerly for the long-awaited third book in the Cicero Trilogy to be published, hopefully in 2015.
This book is the author’s first published work, and takes a view of the world as it might have been if Germany had not lost the Second World War. The action in the novel takes place in the week starting 14 April 1964. This is a world where Germany has a huge and influential Reich covering much of Europe; where England, America and other countries fear Germany’s power, and where Russia has been influencing war on the Eastern Front since the 1940s. Germany is belligerent, militaristic and focused on its Social Democrat way of life. Those who conform may prosper; those who do not conform are likely to be denounced and sent out of the lucky country.
Xavier March is an investigator with the Berlin Kriminalpolizei; in the early morning of Tuesday 14 April 1964, he is called upon to attend a scene where a body has been pulled from Lake Havel. When March finds out who the body is, he is intrigued. But when he finds his investigation thwarted, and people less willing to talk to him, he becomes more determined, even against his own interests, to find out what has been going on. What he finds could change the world forever. And there are those who will stop at nothing to make sure he doesn’t get a chance to tell anyone else about it.
This is a great novel; I found nothing jarring or anachronistic in my reading of the world as it could be in this scenario where the outcome of WWII was different; I could ‘recognise’ the world that the author has put before us, and believe in the narrative of his story. March is a character driven by his own ideals, which differ from those he is told to hold in his authoritarian country. He swims against the political and cultural current, trying to uncover the truth. And the story races along at a great pace; there is intrigue, skullduggery and mystery aplenty. Great stuff.
on 16 December 2009
What would the world be like if Germany had indeed won the Second World War? This is a topic which will be the subject of many alternative history novels for many decades to come as it such an intriguing yet appalling thought.
Robert Harris has created a world in which the USA and Germany are the two remaining superpowers locked in a cold war. Europe has been subdued and is governed by puppet rulers and Russia (or what is left of it) is engaged in a war of attrition with Germany in the Ural Mountains.
The story follows the life of a disillusioned police investigator in Berlin who stumbles into a deadly murder case which eventually reveals the involvement of powerful high ranking Nazi officials and state secrets surrounding the Holocaust.
Imagine a world where you can trust nobody, where every room and phone may be bugged, where photocopiers are strictly controlled and where modern art, alcohol, smoking and even religion are severely frowned upon. If you can imagine such a dreadful world, you are in Robert Harris's Berlin in the sixties.
This book is certainly fascinating, most people think of `what might have been' at one time or another, yet Robert Harris has created a world where Germany actually won the Second World War. However, the most daunting prospect when reading this book is realising that this could have happened. Germany could have won the Second World War in different circumstances, what if they had done?
Read this book and imagine a world where they had!
on 2 August 2010
Follow following advice:-
1. Buy book
2. Open first page
3. Cancel plans to visit pub/work/eat/drink for approximately 2 days
4. Immerse in contents until final page read.
5. Tell your friends that this book is superb
6. Resume boring life...
Say no more. Brilliant.
on 29 September 2015
Well-written, well-researched - as always with this author. If you want a good story plus a history lesson then this book is for you. There was never going to be a proper closure to this book, and it did seem to end quite abruptly. I feel that it would have been more satisfying if the premise - that Hitler won the war - had been taken just a bit further, with more development of this imaginative storyline.
However, erudite novels rarely seem to tie up loose ends and erudite authors never seem to mind leaving the reader with a sense of dissatisfaction. To pursue a story to a satisfying conclusion is to move towards popular fiction - and that won't do!
I did enjoy this book. It makes you explore the purpose of war, and how good it is to be reminded how thankful we should be that a generation had the courage to fight for the freedom of not only our nation, but our continent.
I'd first come into contact with Robert Harris when I'd read Enigma, a skilfully written thriller seamlessly woven into the activities of the code breakers and support personnel at Bletchley Park in their World War II battle to read the German Enigma ciphers.
'Enigma' well deserves the five stars that I, and many other reviewers, gave it. I had expected that his earlier thriller 'Fatherland' would be just as good - many reviewers consider it even better - but, unfortunately, I was less than impressed.
Robert Harris builds his story around a post-World War II Europe ruled by a victorious Adolf Hitler and his ideologically fixated Nazi party. The discovery of the body in a Berlin lake triggers an investigation which, as it spreads, slowly uncovers the true horrors of their final solution to the Jewish question.
Unfortunately he brings nothing new to this appalling tragedy; the only difference between his fictional story and everything that followed from the Wannsee conference (that genuinely took place in in January 1942) is that, in our new Germany, the true events of the Holocaust have been utterly suppressed.
If the truth were revealed would a Nazi dominated Europe be allowed - or be willing - to accept it?
It's a good question but, unfortunately, one that Robert Harris makes no attempt to answer. The thriller itself is, as I'd expected, extremely well written but his handling of the fundamental storyline is unimpressive.
on 25 August 2014
A fascinating idea to stage a police procedural on the premise that Germany won the war, and a gripping story. For myself, I really wanted more nuance on the social and political situation. Robert Harris does a good job of setting out some of the new reality, seeding 'facts' into the narrative all the way through the book - I just wanted more of them, and particularly on the lives of ordinary people living in Berlin. You do get a very good feeling of the unrelenting anxiety of living in a police state, and the complete absence of trust, which makes for a very charged atmosphere.
In this book Robert Harris describes vividly a world in which the Nazis won the Second World War and all of their grand schemes came to fruition. His attention to detail is what makes this work so well and feel so real. The Berlin of the sixties he describes is the one set out in Albert Speer, the Nazi architect's plans. The documents Zavi discovers are based on, and in some cases are, actual documents from the time, and the atmosphere and setting are just right because of it.
This is a tautly plotted, suspenseful thriller set in the Berlin of 1964, just as the Americans are due to enter into a period of detente with the Germans under the leadership of Joseph Kennedy. Zavi, the hero, a disillusioned cop with a broken marriage behind him, is called to investigate the death of what turns out to be a previously high ranking Nazi official from the early days of National Socialism. As he gets deeper into the investigation it becomes clear that this death is not as straightforward a matter as he previously suspected, and intrigue piles upon intrigue, resulting in a beautifully complex plot in which it becomes clear that Zavi is on shaky ground and knowing who to trust will make the difference between life and death.
Just like George Orwell came up with 1984, and a terrible presentation of what a Soviet-inspired totalitarian regime could look like, Robert Harris has done something similar but with the Nazi regime. The action takes place in 1964 and Adolf Hitler is about to celebrate his 75th Birthday. Some fifteen years before, Nazi Germany won the war in Europe. Britain surrendered. The Western part of Russia is occupied right up to the Ural and down to the Caucasus. It has, together with rest of Eastern Europe, become part of Greater Germany, even if a sporadic war still takes place far away on the Eastern Front. There are rumours that the newly elected President of the United States, a certain Joseph Kennedy known for his pro-German sympathies and his antisemitism may visit for the occasion.
The body of one (and then another) old man is found. They belong to ex-Nazi dignitaries, among those who were with Hitler since the very beginning and, despite attempts to present their deaths as accidents; an ex-war hero who has become an officer of the criminal police department opens an inquiry into their suspicious deaths. By looking into their past, he starts to unravel a deadly conspiracy that could allegedly bring down the whole regime. I will stop here and not mention anything more about the plot, except to mention that, however awful the public revelation of the past could have been for the Nazi regime, I am unfortunately not sure that this would have led to its demise.
However, this is not the main point. Even with what may be a bit of a weakness, this is a fantastic book because of the suffocating and, at times, terrifying atmosphere that is conveyed throughout it. The intimidation and disappearance of witnesses, the policeman’s child denouncing him as a subversive element, all the features of a fully totalitarian regime are on display. What clearly appears through these descriptions is that both the hero and his girl-friend (An American journalist with German origins) are also living on borrowed time and likely to disappear if they cannot leave the country…and I will stop here and let you read the book to learn more and see for yourself if they make it out of Germany alive with their secret. Five stars.
on 24 January 2016
Book arrived on time in fine shape, just as described. It is frightening to think about the subject, but the writing is inventive and with mercy towards all, it is free of extra-terrestrial beings who land and make green lights blink from the middle of their foreheads. NO the book is much more serious than that, for if one is willing to enter the writer's world, the text serves to underscore the danger in which we all are enmeshed today. We engage in an undeclared war, which is becoming world-wide. We find ourselves bearing arms against those who would deprive every person who does not agree with the aggressor or who holds different beliefs and mores... of his or her right to live. This book, Fatherland, is therefore timely. If one can mentally substitute the would-be 'I-want-the-world to kowtow to me', as the dominant tyrant of today, and person who is a man or woman willing either to kill or die himself for restricting the beliefs of others, then we meet those, (fictional of not) well-depicted in this book. I am glad I bought it, glad there is a smart writer like Robert Harris attempting serious themes to be understood at more than one level, certainly well above James effin' Bond, (pardon me). The writes points out that suffering continues to be stimulated, both too close to home and not so far away but overseas. The danger is real. The book is of THIS moment. One can only hope the Cassandra-like message will gain purchase with those who plan strategy for the safety of their own countries, of their own states, of their cities, towns, hamlets, and the sleep needed for babies dozing and swinging in a hammock while their mothers pick flowers, but mothers who will not move more than two inches away from their offspring sound asleep. Thank you GK