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Fatherland by Robert Harris

Fatherland (1992)

by Robert Harris

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Fatherland, Robert Harris’1992 novel, is an alternate history, a ‘What might have happened if the Nazis won World War II?’. Set in 1964 Berlin, all Harris’ characters are sharply drawn and passionately motivated in decidedly political directions; the author has done his research and knows the Nazi world inside out; he sticks with a number of actual high-ranking Nazis, such as Reinhard Heydrich and Wilhelm Stuckart, imaginatively projected into his fictional Germany; other Nazis in the novel are consistent with those who followed their Führer back in the day; the language is crisp and not overly ornamental, making for one fast-paced page-turner.

At the center of the action is Xavier March, homicide investigator with the Nazi SS, applying his detective skills to crack a case quickly spiraling into a complex political drama. Along the way March teams up with young attractive American journalist Charlotte Maguire, thus, Harris’ novel is not only a tale of alternate 20th century history but a sexy international thriller. That’s all I intend to say about plot since my specific interest in reading this novel was to see how all the arts are faring in the land of Hitler and the Nazis 30 years after the war. To this end, below are some quotes along with my comments:

The image of the superior blonde, blue-eyed Ayran is still alive and kicking. We read: “The press portrayed Reinhard Heydrich as Nietzsche’s Superman sprung to life. Heydrich in his pilot’s uniform (he had flown combat missions on the eastern front). Heydrich in his fencing gear (he had fenced for Germany in the Olympics). Heydrich with his violin (he could reduce audiences to tears by the pathos of his playing).” Hitler despised modern music, actually any music other than 19th century classical, usually operas, such as The Merry Widow by Franz Lehár. Most Nazis in Harris’ 1964 Germany still share their 75 year-old Führer’s musical taste. And there is mention of a group of young Englishmen from Liverpool with their “pernicious Negroid wailings”, a clear example of modern degenerate music, singing ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’.

A tour guide talks about the main buildings of the new Berlin to all the foreigners on a tour bus: “Construction of the Arch of Triumph was commenced in 1946 and work was completed in time for the Day of National Reawakening in 1950.” Actually, that appalling monolithic architecture Hitler envisioned, including the 1000 ft. Great Hall designed by Albert Speer, a building that can hold 150,000 participants, is very much part of the novel. The book’s inner cover has a two page drawing of Hitler’s main buildings, including Great Hall, Grand Plaza, Hitler Palace and the 400 ft. Arch of Triumph.

Other than a slight reference to the subversive novels of such writers as Günter Grass, there isn’t that much mention of literature and for good reason – this is a tightly controlled police state, similar to Stalinist Russia. Any novels or stories that do not adhere to the official party line are deemed subversive, perverted, the products of sick minds. Such was the language used by the Nazis when they staged their infamous exhibit of Degenerate Art in 1937.

When March enters the office of a leader of the Gestapo, he observes: “On the walls were prints of Thorak’s sculptures: herculean figures with gargantuan torsos rolled boulders up steep hills in celebration of the building of the Autobahnen. . . . The immensity of Thorak’s statuary was a whispered joke.” Ah, the aesthetics of the Nazis is showing some cracks at the foundation! Thorak was a prime Nazi sculptor, one of Hitler’s very favorites. However, his Nazi versions of cartoon superheroes left many Germans cold back in the 1930s; by the 1960s even the Germans in Harris’ novel could see the silliness of such bloated, muscle-bound monstrosities.

And March views the paintings on another wall: “Schmutzler’s Farm Girls Returning from the Fields, Padua’s The Führer Speaks – ghastly orthodox muck.” Even a no-nonsense, action-oriented SS detective judges the official Nazi art as ‘orthodox muck’. The German Hall of Art (right across the street from the exhibit of ‘Degenerate Art’ featuring such moderns as Marc, Nolde, Kandinsky, Chagall, Grozz) exhibited what Hitler decreed as acceptable art. In the 1930s many art critics judged this Nazi art as, at best, mediocre and by the 1960s, a clearer vision has reached the man and SS officer in the street – all that realist art that Hitler loves is so much saccharine crap.

Toward the end of the novel, March and Charlotte Maguire enter an empty elementary school where March makes the observation: “Childish paintings decorated the walls – blue meadows, green skies, clouds of sulfur yellow. Children’s art was perilously close to degenerate art; such perversity would have to be knocked out of them.” The author did his homework. Hitler, an aspiring artist himself as young man (so much will; so little talent), loathed the expressionists painting grass that was not green, skies that were not blue, clouds that were not white – he simply could not enter the imaginative world of a true artist; and he would become violent when someone suggested he had provincial, limited tastes.

This is a fascinating novel on a number of levels. I focused on the arts since this is one of my main interests and as Frederic Spotts demonstrated in his well-researched ‘Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics’, Hitler valued art as the ultimate end of his world vision. In Harris’ 1964 alternative history, his vision proved to be narrow, lackluster, the product of a totalitarian police state. Thank goodness a 1964 Nazi Germany never became a reality.
( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
Robert Harris's debut novel Fatherland is an engrossing and quick-paced thriller in an all-too-believable alternate history setting of 1964 Berlin, where Germany, victorious in World War II, is planning a celebration of Adolph Hitler's 75th birthday. As the day approaches, Detective Xavier March is called to investigate the death of a once-prominent Nazi official, which leads to the discovery of a vast conspiracy to suppress the Third Reich's deepest, darkest secret. This is a really good page-turner, but one should take care not breeze through too quickly or you'd miss some fine literary stylings, including a wonderful technique of presenting overarching metaphors within small details, such as: "With their close-cropped hair and their loose-fitting light gray drill uniforms, the class of SS cadets looked like convicts." and "March leaned back against the stone and closed his eyes. The sun on his face made the darkness bloodred." ( )
  ghr4 | Jan 20, 2017 |
An amazing story of how life would be if...! ( )
  GeorgiaKo | May 27, 2016 |
An interesting premise; and a little unnerving, the Nazis winning WW2. I enjoyed the suspense and the characters. Reminded me of Martin Cruz Smith's novel and character - Arkady. Very well-written and with a minimum of bad language. Well done, indeed. ( )
  repb | Feb 28, 2016 |
Interesting twist on the murder mystery/ political thriller. The novel is set in 1964 Berlin... but the twist is that it's set in an alternate history in which Germany won World War II. The protagonist, Detective March, starts out investigating a dead body found in a Berlin park, and stumbles upon a Gestapo plot to cover up a monstrous crime in advance of the first stirrings of detente between the US and Germany (the geoplitics are basically that Germany takes the place of the USSR in the Cold War, as the US still emerges as the other superpower after WW II).

It's a great airline read (which is what I had it for), with a gripping plot. It suffers a bit from the cliched use of a headstrong and beautiful American woman sidekick (the book is so inventive in the alternate history, but can't leave that overused genre cliche out?).

Well done overall, though. ( )
  DanTarlin | Feb 18, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert Harrisprimary authorall editionscalculated
Galle, HubertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lindholm, JuhaniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rambelli, RobertaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reinert, KirkCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The hundred million self-confident German masters were to be brutally installed in Europe, and secured in power by a monopoly of technical civilisation and the slave-labour of a dwindling native population of neglected, diseased, illiterate cretins, in order that they might have the leisure to buzz along infinite Autobahnen, admire the Strength-Through-Joy Hostel, the Party headquarters, the Military Museum and the Planetarium which their Führer would have built in Linz (his new Hitleropolis), trot round local picture-galleries, and listen over their cream buns to endless recordings of The Merry Widow. This was to be the German Millenium, from which even the imagination was to have no means of escape.
Hugh Trevor-Roper
The Mind of Adolf Hitler
People sometimes say to me: 'Be careful! You will have twenty years of guerilla warfare on your hands!' I am delighted at the prospect ... Germany will remain in a state of perpetual alertness.
Adolf Hitler
29 August 1942
To Gill
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Thick cloud had pressed down on Berlin all night, and now it was lingering into what passed for the morning.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061006629, Mass Market Paperback)

It is twenty years after Nazi Germany's triumphant victory in World War II and the entire country is preparing for the grand celebration of the FÜhrer's seventy-fifth birthday, as well as the imminent peacemaking visit from President Kennedy.

Meanwhile, Berlin Detective Xavier March -- a disillusioned but talented investigation of a corpse washed up on the shore of a lake. When a dead man turns out to be a high-ranking Nazi commander, the Gestapo orders March off the case immediately. Suddenly other unrelated deaths are anything but routine.

Now obsessed by the case, March teams up with a beautiful, young American journalist and starts asking questions...dangerous questions. What they uncover is a terrifying and long-concealed conspiracy of such astonding and mind-numbing terror that is it certain to spell the end of the Third Reich -- if they can live long enough to tell the world about it.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:59 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Unveils the living nightmare of a world planned by the Nazis in reality, but never achieved. It illuminates the trail taken by the loner March, leading him to the discoveries of wartime corruption, Swiss bank vaults, love, danger, and - most terrifying of all - the black heart of the Nazi state.… (more)

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