21 December 2007

Works as both thriller and alternate history



Fatherland
Robert Harris
HarperTorch, 1993

What if Nazi Germany had won the European war? What would the world of the 1960s look like with an aging F├╝hrer still clutching the reigns of power? Those are the big questions that inform journalist and author Robert Harris' debut novel, a genuine page-turner about one German policeman's investigation of a routine corpse who turns out to be anything but routine.

I really enjoyed this novel on many levels. For one thing, it is a compelling thriller involving long-buried secrets, political assassinations, international intrigue, and Gestapo tactics and police state paranoia. The main protagonist, Sturmbahnnf├╝hrer Xavier March, a surprisingly sympathetic SS officer-by-default whose loyalty to the Reich is far from perfect, finds himself drawn into a web of treachery involving a 20-year old secret that unknown parties will kill to protect.

Fatherland is also ingeniously crafted alternate history, in which Albert Speer's larger-than-life architectural visions for Nazi Berlin have been brought to fruition. Descriptions of the titanic Arch of Triumph (40 or so times bigger than the Parisian monument of the same name) and the thousand-foot tall Great Hall vied for my attention against chilling details about everyday life in a racist police state. And of course, there is that decades-old secret March unravels; it has something to do with obscure frontier towns called Treblinka, Auschwitz, and Dachau.

All in all, a well written debut novel that is well worth a read.

(This review was originally written on September 14, 2007.)

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