Fatherland (novel)

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Fatherland
RobertHarris Fatherland.jpg
Cover of the first UK edition
AuthorRobert Harris
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
GenreThriller, alternative history novel
PublisherHutchinson
Publication date7 May 1992
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages372 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBNISBN 0-09-174827-5 (first edition, hardback)
OCLC Number26548520
 
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Fatherland
RobertHarris Fatherland.jpg
Cover of the first UK edition
AuthorRobert Harris
CountryUnited Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
GenreThriller, alternative history novel
PublisherHutchinson
Publication date7 May 1992
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages372 pp (first edition, hardback)
ISBNISBN 0-09-174827-5 (first edition, hardback)
OCLC Number26548520

Fatherland is a best-selling 1992 thriller by the English writer and journalist Robert Harris. It takes the form of a detective story in an alternative history in which Nazi Germany won World War II. The novel was an immediate best-seller in the UK. It has sold over three million copies and has been translated into 25 languages.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

The story begins in Nazi Germany in April 1964, in the week leading up to Adolf Hitler's 75th birthday. The plot follows detective Xavier March, an investigator working for the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo), as he investigates the suspicious death of a high-ranking Nazi, Josef Buhler, in the Havel on the outskirts of Berlin. As March uncovers more details, he realises that he is caught up in a political scandal involving senior Nazi Party officials, who are apparently being systematically murdered under staged circumstances. In fact, as soon as the body is identified, the Gestapo claims jurisdiction and orders the Kripo to close its investigation.

March meets with 'Charlie' Maguire, a female American journalist who is also determined to investigate the case. They both travel to Zürich to investigate the private Swiss bank account of one of the murdered officials. Ultimately, the two uncover the horrific truth behind the staged murders: Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the SS, has ordered the Gestapo to eliminate the remaining officials who planned the Holocaust (of which the German people are not generally aware) at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942. This is being done to safeguard an upcoming meeting of Hitler and President of the United States Joseph P. Kennedy by ensuring that the government's crimes are not revealed. Maguire heads for neutral Switzerland with the evidence, hoping to expose it to the world. March, however, is denounced by his ten-year-old son and apprehended by the Gestapo.

In the cellars of Gestapo headquarters at Prinz-Albrecht-Straße, March is tortured but does not reveal the location of Maguire. Kripo Chief Artur Nebe stages a rescue, intending to track March as he meets with Maguire at their rendezvous in Waldshut-Tiengen on the Swiss/German border. March realises what is happening and heads for Auschwitz, leading the authorities in the wrong direction.

The Gestapo catches up with March at the unmarked site of Auschwitz. Knowing that Maguire has had time to cross the border into Switzerland, March searches for some sign that the camp existed. As the Gestapo agents close in on him in a helicopter, March uncovers bricks in the undergrowth. Satisfied, he pulls out his gun while leaving the readers to draw their own conclusions.

Characters[edit]

Fictional[edit]

Historical[edit]

Some attendees of the real Wannsee Conference are central to the plot, although the others are already dead at the time of the novel's events.

Background[edit]

Alternate World War II history[edit]

Throughout the novel, Harris gradually explains the fictional historical developments that allowed Germany to prevail in World War II. Although not specifically stated, the earliest point of divergence is that Reinhard Heydrich survived the assassination attempt by Czech fighters in May 1942 – which in reality killed him – and became head of the SS. The Nazi offensives on the Eastern Front ultimately pushed back the Soviet forces, with the Case Blue operation succeeding in capturing the Caucasus and cutting the Red Army off from its petroleum reserves by 1943. The Nazis also uncovered the secret of the Enigma machine code having been broken by Polish mathematicians. A massive U-Boat campaign against Britain thereafter succeeded in starving the British into surrender by 1944, while the D-Day invasion by the Allies presumably never occurred.

King George VI and Winston Churchill are forced into exile in Canada. Edward VIII regained the British throne soon afterward, with Wallis Simpson as his queen. Although the Germans pushed the Soviets east of the Ural Mountains, the conflict there has died down into guerrilla warfare, with the Soviets supported by the United States.

The US defeated Japan in 1945 using its own nuclear weapons. Germany tested its first atomic bomb (presumably with the assistance of British nuclear physicists) in 1946 and fired a non-nuclear "V-3" missile above New York City to demonstrate an ability to attack the continental United States with long-range missiles. Thus, the US and Germany are the two superpower opponents in the Cold War of this world.

Alternate post-war history[edit]

Having achieved victory in Europe, Germany annexes Eastern Europe and most of the western Soviet Union into the Greater German Reich. Following the signing of the Treaty of Rome, Western Europe and Scandinavia are corralled into a pro-German trading bloc, the European Community. By 1964, the United States and the Greater German Reich are involved in a Cold War.

The surviving areas of the Soviet Union, still led by Stalin, wage an endless guerrilla war with German forces in the Ural Mountains and Siberia. Mounting casualties (at least 100,000 since 1960, according to the novel) have sapped the German military, despite Hitler's statement (quoted in the novel) about a perpetual war to keep the German people on their toes. Dead German soldiers are returned to Germany in the middle of the night and German citizens are still urged to contribute to the Winterhilfswerk ("Winter Relief") program.

The novel takes place from 14–20 April 1964, as Germany prepares for Hitler's 75th birthday celebrations on the 20th. A visit by the President of the United States, Joseph P. Kennedy, is planned as part of a gradual détente between the United States and the Greater German Reich. The novel suggests that the Nazi hierarchy is eager for peace because its efforts to settle the conquered Eastern lands are failing, in part due to the American-backed guerrilla war waged by the Soviets.

The Holocaust has been explained away officially as merely the relocation of the Jewish population to the East into areas where communication and travel are still very poor, and it is impossible for most of their relatives in the West to contact them. Despite this, many Germans suspect the government has eliminated the Jews.

Greater German Reich and international politics[edit]

Fatherland's 1964 Europe

The first few pages of Fatherland feature two maps: one of the city centre of Berlin and another showing the extent of the massively expanded Greater German Reich, which now stretches from Alsace-Lorraine (Westmark) in the west to the Ural Mountains and lower Caucasus in the east.

The Reich has retained Austria (now known as the "Ostmark"), Slovenia, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (formerly part of Czechoslovakia), and Luxembourg (now named "Moselland"). In the East, Poland is still ruled by the General Government while Soviet territory west of the Urals has been divided into five Reichkommissariats: Ostland (Belarus and the Baltic states), Ukraine, Muscovy (from Moscow to the Urals), and Caucasus, along with Generalkommissariat Taurida (Southern Ukraine and the Crimea). There is also mention of a German naval base in Trondheim, Norway where the Reich's nuclear submarines are based.

Berlin has been remodelled as Hitler's "capital of capitals", designed according to the wishes of Hitler and his top architect, Albert Speer, and is the world's largest city, with a population of ten million. The virtually powerless "European Parliament" is based there. The nations of Fatherland's EC, despite being nominally free under their own governments and leaders, are presumably only just sufficient to police their own territory. European nations are under constant surveillance by Berlin and are subordinate to Germany in all but name.

The rest of Western and Northern Europe, excluding Switzerland, has been corralled by Germany into a European Community (made up of Portugal, Spain, France, Ireland, Great Britain, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland) although the status of the historical Nazi-sympathetic government of Italy's Benito Mussolini is unspecified. Eastern European countries dominated by the Germany of Fatherland include Croatia, Greece, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Albania, and Serbia.

By the time the Reich had turned its eyes to Switzerland, the stalemate of the Cold War had settled in and Switzerland had become a convenient neutral spot for diplomacy, and for American and German intelligence agents to spy on each other. Consequently, Switzerland is the last true independent state in Europe.

The United States is locked in a Cold War with the Greater German Reich. Since the end of the war in 1946, both the US and Germany have developed nuclear and space technologies. Japan was defeated by the US after the United States detonated two atomic bombs on Japanese territory. The United States is said to have not participated in the Olympic Games since 1936, but is expected to in 1964.

A passing remark hints at China being ruled by a harsh government. A greatly reduced Russian rump state exists, while the United States supplies weapons and funds which are used by the Russians to tie down German forces in the Urals and Siberia. Although German propaganda plays down the war in the east, the death toll on the Eastern Front is taking its toll. Africa and South America are not referred to in the novel.

Canada and Australia are now allied with the United States. Princess Elizabeth resides in Canada and is recognised by Canada, Australia and the United States as the rightful queen of the United Kingdom. Winston Churchill also lives in Canada.

The novel does not make references to the League of Nations or a possible existence of the United Nations. However the International Red Cross does exist in the world of Fatherland.

The novel describes that since the end of the war, a stalemate has developed between Germany and the United States, which seems to overshadow international relations. New German buildings are constructed with mandatory fallout shelters; the Reichsarchiv (German National Archive) claims to have been built to withstand a direct missile hit. It is not explicitly stated whether Germany and the United States are the only nuclear powers in the world of Fatherland.

Nazi society[edit]

In the novel, Germany concentrates on the containment of what is left of the USSR. Hitler has taken some steps to soften his image over the years, and now wears a business suit most of the time instead of his Nazi uniform. Nonetheless, no substantive changes have taken place in the Nazi regime's basic character. The Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act of 1933, the legal bases for Hitler's dictatorship, remain in effect. The press, radio and television are tightly controlled. Dissenters are still sent to concentration camps. Although conditions there are reputed to be as harsh as they were in the 1930s and 1940s, the International Red Cross is occasionally given staged inspections.

In the novel, the bedrock of Nazi ideology is still the policy of blaming subversives for social problems. Jews, communists, homosexuals, incest, and interracial relationships (particularly between "Aryans" and Slavs) continue being scapegoats for the Nazi Party. Nazi propaganda has previously depicted America as a land of corruption, degeneracy and poverty. However, as the diplomatic meeting between Hitler and Kennedy nears, German propaganda is forced to change its image of America to a more positive view.

Despite its ideological and moral decline, Germany enjoys a high standard of living, with its citizens living off the produce of their European satellite states and freed from physical labour by thousands of Polish, Czech and Ukrainian slaves. The European nations export high quality consumer goods to Germany (noted imports are domestic electronics from Great Britain) while also providing services, such as an SS academy at Oxford University and imported domestic staff. Hitler's personal tastes in classical art and music remain the norm for German society.

Military service is still compulsory. Eastern Europe has been colonised by German settlers (although local partisan resistance movements are still active) and the German population has soared as a result of Nazi emphasis on childbirth. As the original generation of Nazi leaders that founded the party and came to power alongside Hitler are now beginning to die off, increasing numbers of Nazi officials are well-educated technocrats in the mould of Albert Speer. The police force has been integrated with the SS, with police officers including Xavier March holding honorary SS ranks.

According to the main characters, however, German society in the early 1960s is becoming more and more rebellious. The young generation have no memory of the instability that paved the way for Hitler's rise to power. Student protests, particularly against the war in the Urals, American and British cultural influence, and growing pacifism are all found in Nazi society. Jazz music is still popular and the German government claims to have come up with a version which is free from "Negroid influence". In spite of the general repressiveness, the Beatles' real-life Hamburg engagements have happened here as well (and have already been denounced in the state-run press). Germany appears to be under constant attack by terrorist groups, with officials assassinated and civilian airliners bombed in-flight. Christianity is suppressed, and Nazi youth organisations are compulsory for all children. Universities are centres of student dissent, and the White Rose movement is once again active.

The Nazis continue with their policies for women, encouraging them to remain in the home and bring up many children (still emphasising the first two elements of Kinder, Küche, Kirche), although women are clearly present in the Nazi bureaucracy. Nazi organisations such as Kraft durch Freude still exist and fulfill their original roles such as providing holidays to resort areas under German control. A sprawling transport network covers the entire Reich, including vast autobahnen and railways in the manner of the actually proposed Breitspurbahn system, carrying immense trains.

Technology[edit]

The level of technology in Fatherland is much the same as in the actual 1960s, and in some respects, is more advanced. The German military makes use of jet aircraft, nuclear submarines, and aircraft carriers, while civilian technology has also advanced considerably. Jet airliners, televisions, hair-dryers, Coffee machines and even photocopiers are used in Germany (though the last of these remains strictly controlled to prevent dissemination of subversive literature).

Both the United States and Germany appear to possess sophisticated space technology. Although the extent of space exploration is not specified, a conversation between March and Maguire suggests that German boasts about being ahead of the Americans in the Space Race are justified.

In other media[edit]

Film[edit]

A TV film of the book was made in 1994 by HBO, starring Rutger Hauer as March and Miranda Richardson as Maguire for which she received a Golden Globe Award in 1995 for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for TV. Rutger Hauer's performance was also nominated, as well as the film itself. The film also received an Emmy nomination in 1995 for Special Visual Effects.[2]

Radio[edit]

The novel was also serialised on BBC radio, starring Anton Lesser as March and Angeline Ball as Charlie Maguire. It was dramatised, produced and directed by John Dryden and first broadcast on 9 July 1997. The ending is changed slightly to allow for the limitations of the medium: the entire Auschwitz death camp is discovered in an abandoned state, and Charlie Maguire's passage into Switzerland definitely occurs.

Audiobook[edit]

The unabridged audiobook version of the novel was released by Random House Audio in 1993, read by Werner Klemperer, best remembered for his two-time Emmy Award-winning role of bumbling Colonel Klink on the 1960s TV series Hogan's Heroes.

Release details[edit]

See also[edit]

The above page includes an extensive list of other Wikipedia articles regarding works of Nazi Germany/Axis/World War II alternate history.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Rosenfeld, Gavriel David (2005), The world Hitler never made, Cambridge University Press, p. 87, ISBN 0-521-84706-0 .
  2. ^ [1]

External links[edit]