Twenty years ago, I (and millions of others) read Robert Harris' alternate history, The Fatherland, in which Hitler wins the war. Decades later, when most of what I read at that time has slipped from my memory, that I still remember the novel. That means it really made an impact.

What did I expect from this book, then? Much more than I got.

On the back cover, Harris is called "The Master of the intelligent thriller." Fine--but note: this is NOT a thriller. It's actually...not much of anything, except, perhaps, a vehicle to provide us an inside look on what became--a few years later, and for evermore--THE infamous example of timid, frightened bow-and-scrape obsequious behaviour toward a nationalistic bully. In a word, "appeasement."

So, some of the scenes here, of rapturous, cheering crowds--both in England AND in Germany--lauding the man fated to be dismissed thereafter as a craven coward, are quite fascinating. But...are they, in fact, real? Yes, Harris has done his due diligence--It's unusual for a novel to devote a page and a half listing of research sources--dozens and dozens of titles--but there they are! It's frustrating: what's fact? What's fiction? I'll have to keep reading to get the answer.

So...why didn't Harris give us around 200 pages of convenient "Inside history"--REAL history--and let it go at that? Because the story and the make-believe characters (three or four, at least) just seem to get in the way. It's not that they alter the outcome (they can't, after all), it's just that they seem incapable of even really trying.


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