Sunday, March 1, 2009


Written by Phillip Winn
Published June 02, 2003

Our hero, Xavier March, is an SS agent in Nazi Germany, but we still root for him. That's storytelling. It helps that the book is set in a world in which Germany won their part of Word War II, and nobody knows exactly what happened to all the Jews.

In Fatherland, author Robert Harris creates a world where America beat the Japanese, but Germany won in Europe. It is now 1964, twenty years after Nazi Germany's victory, and the country is preparing for the Führer's seventy-fifth birthday and a peacemaking summit that will likely bring détente with President Kennedy. March is a police detective in Berlin, and all police have been made part of the Kriminalpolizei, also known as the SS. In a black uniform that strikes fear into most people who see him, he begins to investigate what seems like a routine murder. The victim turns out to be a senior Nazi commander and suddenly the Gestapo orders March off the case, an order he ignores. Solving this case might mean the end of Third Reich, but it might also mean the end of Sturmbannführer March.

Though the premise may make this sound like science fiction, the novel is a relatively straightforward police procedural that escalates into an international thriller. Tightly plotted and based more than a little bit on historical identities and facts, this book is hard to put down.

As gripping as the plot is, the characters are even more engaging. Zavi March is a hero in bad circumstances and he teams up with Charlotte Maguire, an American reporter stuck in Berlin to cover the summit. She ends up personally involved in the story, but it promises to be the biggest story out of Germany since the war ended.

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 apartement after Klara and I split up, 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 into 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 everybody 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."

The Jewish Question is at the root of the problems in Germany, though it takes some time and effort to piece that much together. Many names are familiar, or could be, and some are new. The story and the characters make this a book worth reading.

Amazingly, I find that this book has been filmed with Rutger Hauer as Sturmbannführer Xavier March. It's only available on VHS, but for $7.95 I'll make an exception and check it out.

Fatherland - Robert Harris
Genre: Thriller
Readability: Short sentences and an easy style make this one difficult to put down. Though the book assumes you can put yourself into the mindset of a victorious Germany, I found the transition easy, and I suspect you will, too.
Philosophy: Like most books set in Nazi Germany, this one is very direct in converying moral judgement, and rightly so. Still, by showing us at least one sympathetic character within the SS, it might challenge some people.
Suitability: Since this book deal with the "Final Solution" to "The Jewish Question," that probably limits the audience somewhat. In addition, there is rough language and sexual immorality, as well as tense family situations involving the protagonists ex-wife and son.
Overall: 4.5/5

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly
An eerie, detailed alternate history serves as the backdrop for this otherwise conventional crime thriller. The setting is Berlin, 1964, some 20 years after the Third Reich's victory in WW II. Germany and the U.S., the world's two superpowers, find themselves in a cold war resulting from a nuclear stalemate; but U.S. President Joseph P. Kennedy is soon to visit Berlin for an historic summit meeting with Hitler, clearing the way for detente. Meanwhile, cynical police detective Xavier March investigates the drowning of Josef Buhler, former state secretary in the General Government. When the Gestapo takes over the case--ruling it suicide--March continues his investigation at the risk of his life, uncovering a deadly conspiracy at the highest levels of the Reich. With the help of American reporter Charlotte Maguire, he finds hard evidence of the wartime extermination of Europe's Jews, a secret that Buhler and his colleagues have been murdered to protect. Of course March and Maguire fall in love along the way. Harris ( Selling Hitler ) generates little suspense in this tale beyond his piecemeal rendering of the novel's unusual historical setting. The characters are flat and the plot largely predictable. And readers may well question the taste of using the Holocaust as the point of departure for a rather insubstantial, derivative thriller. 75,000 first printing; BOMC selection.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal
The year is 1964. The setting is Berlin. JFK's father, Joe Kennedy, is president. Edward VIII is king, Wallis his queen. Adolf Hitler is about to celebrate his 75th birthday. In this thriller with a twist, the stalemate which ended World War II has evolved into a cold war, not between the Soviet Union and the United States, but between the Third Reich and America. Police investigator Xavier March handles a case involving the death of a prominent Nazi, an apparent suicide. The trail leads to other suicides, accidental deaths, a numbered vault in Zurich, and a beautiful American reporter. March discovers the pattern behind the deaths and locates incriminating papers exposing the Holocaust, which, because Germany didn't lose the war, has been kept secret for 20 years. Harris, author of the nonfiction title Selling Hitler ( LJ 5/15/86), is clearly well versed in the operations and machinations of the Nazi regime. He uses this knowledge to create a realistic and frightening world in which we all could be living. Recommended. BOMC selection; previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/92.
- C. Christopher Pavek, National Economic Research Assocs. Lib., Washington, D.C.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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