Mar 26, 2008

Fatherland by Robert Harris


One of those "what if the nazis won" alternate history novels, this is one of the most mainstream-style reads I've picked up yet. The triumphant Germany of the 60s serves as a backdrop to a police thriller/murder mystery. Berlin's been restyled according to nazi tastes and fantasies - giant looming buildings house the SS and other arms of the ever-reaching government. A tour guide, in one bit, consistently describes certain monuments as "20 times larger than the one in France". Everyone from school children to grannies belongs to a uniformed offshoot of The Party. Well, you have to admit - if there is one thing the stiff right arm boys had going, it was a deep understanding of symbolism and how to use it.

So here's my question - could Germany have hidden the slaughter of Europe's Jewish population from the rest of the world? Could 11 million people have gone up in smoke without the general population of, for instance, America knowing? I mean, we, as a society, certainly ignore some atrocities (Darfur), but in this day and age we do know they're going on. In a time before the internet, before fax machines, before automated media, in a tightly controlled situation, could they have pulled it off? Even then, I have my doubts. The vast majority of people will do nothing to stop a great evil, but a secret spread among workers, those who built the camps, those soldiers running the camps and trains, those filing the paperwork, even the camps neighbors seems to me to be a secret unlikely to be kept. What say you?

(I just now realized that HBO did a tv version of Fatherland in 1994, with Rutger Hauer Miranda Richardson. Shit, I'd watch that. I wonder if I can rent it.)

final thought: I wonder how long the nazis will continue to be such an effective boogyman. Will they eventually pass into mythology of a sort, devil figures from a shady past?

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