Customer Review

27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good novel but a missed opportunity, 15 Jun. 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Fatherland (Paperback)
Robert Harris takes us to Berlin in 1964, a German capital that is the cultural, social and economic centre of Europe. Architecturally, philosophically and socially the Nazis have made their mark through Europe applying their ideology to everything that stands in its path. There is a world wide detente with (presumably) three political superblocs USSR, the USA and the Greater Germany.
This book addresses the old conundrum of how do you spy on the spys? Or in this instance how do you investigate the secret police especially when it is in an extrememely effective and efficiently run totalitarian state? The story takes us from a run of the mill accidental death to a crime that could bring the existence of this perfectly modelled aryan society to an end, not to mention world harmony.
This is a thriller that almost keeps the reader guesssing to the end. As thrillers go it is very good in its own genre but I did have a strong feeling of a missed opportunity. The totalitarian super state or the Nazis Europe concepts are not new - see Orwell and Deighton. There was one key missing factor in this book; and that is, at no point did I feel that I was reading a book about the 1960's.
For all of the work that Harris has done manufacturing the detail he has missed out on the back drop. All of the references and historical notes and even the people are taken from the 1930's as if nothing has happened from 1940 to 1964. Even in a totalitarian state attitudes, behaviour and points of view change both from governments and citizens. Harris will have us believe that the increased German state of the early 1960's is identical in character to the Germany of the 1930's.
Further embellishment and consideration as to how 30 years of change would have affected this dictatorship could have made this a great piece of fiction rather than a good novel.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Apr 2011 12:27:33 BDT
PlumaSerrana says:
I beg to disagree with the above poster. Part of what the author describes is precisely what a dictatorship is all about: a continuation. A continuation by every means possible of a status quo which was reached "by right of conquest". The fact that some historical characters like Himmler (who is mentioned in the novel as having died in a airplane accident) precisely add up credibility because you would expect that even big shots like him have to die at some point. Even more chilling is to read about an ever-present Polizei in its myriad forms and the Nazi regime's enhanced means to control a population (i.e. television) if they would have reached the 1960s. In my opinion, Mr. Harris has painted a very plausible picture of the horror the world would have become if Joe Kennedy was U.S. President, Reinhard Heydrich was Head of all German Police forces, Churchill was in exile in Canada, etc. Mr Harris' masterful stroke as a novelist is, however, best for having created a character like Xavier March: a German detective and SS officer who is discontented with a dictatorial status quo after 20 years of service to it.

Is this relevant today in a world where there are so many dictatorships? This book ought to be translated into Korean (if this has not been done yet) and smuggled into North Korea and other lands where people's bodies still have to serve their respective "Fatherland"; let their minds and spirits have something to challenge them by putting a mirror in front of them. Knowing that you are wrong and seeing the ugly truth for what it truly is is the first step towards correction. In religion we call this "asking for forgiveness"; there are others who may call it "saying sorry".

Posted on 25 Oct 2012 15:02:42 BDT
Buddy says:
If the Brits, had joined Germany in wiping out Russia the Europe of to day would truly be something to behold!

In reply to an earlier post on 12 Dec 2012 10:05:14 GMT
Last edited by the author on 12 Dec 2012 10:13:00 GMT
UNBIASED says:
Oh dear, one of those. Cashews and brazils.

Posted on 26 May 2013 11:03:05 BDT
Alexander says:
This is actually an appalling book. It is full of mistakes, wrong German and, as you rightly say, an assumption that historical developments can be second-guessed or ignored. Why on earth would Joseph Kennedy have become President of the USA? Why on earth, given the Nazi persecution of homosexuals, would they have tolerated the existence of a known gay as an army cadet? There are non sequiturs on nearly every page, and not the least of Harris' lack of historical and cultural understanding is his belief that members of law enforcement in the German state would take as regularly to the whisky bottle as he makes his characters do. Harris clearly didn't do half as much research as he should have done before penning this third-rate story.
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