He pulled out his wallet, took out the photograph. It looked incongruous amid the plushness of the restaurant – a relic from someone’s attic, rubbish from a flea market stall.
He gave it to her. She studied it. A strand of hair fell over her face and she brushed it away. ‘Who are they?’
‘When I moved into my apartment after Klara and I split, it hadn’t been decorated for years. I found that tucked behind the wallpaper in the bedroom. I tell you, I took that place to pieces, but that was all there was. Their surname was Weiss. But who are they? Where are they now? What happened to them?’
He took the photograph, folded it into quarters, put it back in his wallet.
‘What do you do,’ he said, ‘if you devote your life to discovering criminals, and it gradually occurs to you that the real criminals are the people you work for? What do you do when everyone tells you not to worry, you can’t do anything about it, it was a long time ago?’
She was looking at him in a different way. ‘I suppose you go crazy.’
‘Or worse. Sane.’
Confession: I’ve meant to read Fatherland since it came out some 25 years ago. Time flies. And maybe because I’ve wanted to read it for so long, I’m kind of disappointed.
I liked the beginning. I was eager to see where this story would go. You know, the spirit of the 1960s in a Germany still under the Nazi power in 1963. It is a mystery, and I love mysteries. And it can be considered dieselpunk since all the characteristics are there. There’s a dystopian setting, a totalitarian regime and a rebel main character. The diesel era setting is also there since these 1960s still look remarkably like the 1940s).
Unfortunately, the author fell short on many respect. What disappointed me the most is that I don’t think Harris ever truly managed to get into the head and the heart of a German. The American journalist Charlotte is the focus of his emotional involvement. March, always remains a bit dull – at least for me. It’s clear from the beginning that he doesn’t agree with the regime – to some extent – but this never plays a part in the plot. How does he cope with his disapproval of the regime and his being an SS investigator, for example? He grew up under the Third Reich (since in the 1920s he was a kid), so how did he come to disapprove? This was never addressed in any depth and it’s a big miss on the story.
I was also disappointed that the author didn’t manage to create a truly ‘human’ environment. Nazis are all bad. If they aren’t, they die. Good people can only live outside the regime. Seems a bit limiting, especially considering the premise of the story. The Third Reich has been around some forty years. A few of the characters in this story have known no other reality, but this never becomes relevant. Such a shame.
The mystery part is also problematic. The very reason why March should keep investigating even after he was ordered to drop the case was never convincingly explained. The only attempt to give him a reason is very clumsy and superficial and again, never really involves March’s ideas about the Third Reich. And the very reason why a mystery exists (why people is being killed) is very lame.
Furthermore, the reason why this is a dystopian story is also unclear. The truth at the heart of the mystery isn’t in any way dystopian. The story could have been set in the problematic years after WWII (it could even been set during WWII) and it would have been exactly the same story. The 1960s zeitgeist never entered the story either. I wonder: setting the novel in 1960s Germany still under the Third Reich might have been only a ‘sensational’ idea?
I discovered from a review that this book was originally intended to be a non-fiction book about post-WWII Germany. It was Harris’s agent’s idea to turn it into a novel. This would explain many things, especially the lack of interest in clearly powerful plot ideas.
But in spite of all my doubts, I did enjoy the novel. The first half, where the speculative world comes to life, was especially good for me. It’s a very vivid depiction of what might have been, a shot of life that looks believable, at least to a certain point. Still worth reading.
In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies