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Ryan's Reviews: Fatherland, by Robert Harris

The Red

Well-known member
Published by SLP
Great review, I wasn’t really into AH when I read Fatherland, nor was I that aware of Robert Harris but now I’m big fans of both it’s always going to be special for me. I think that whilst you point out the Nazi victory scenario was arguably overdone even prior to its release Fatherland has arguably shaped the scope of such scenarios more than any other work. It’s no coincidence that so many Nazi victory TLs seem to stall around 1964.

On Heydrich, I’ve seen it theorised that his survival is actually the PoD with him going on to influence the discovery that Enigma had been cracked. Plausibility wise the scenario doesn’t really hold up but Nazi victory scenarios are always going to suffer from that, and it’s vague enough to imply that Harris was aware of this, or at least was more focused on telling an interesting story in a well crafted dystopia than proving that the Nazis could have won the war.
 

Death's Companion

General Ugg Apologist.
I think one failing point is how Harris acknowledges that the Nazis were never going to make General Plan Ost work properly with most of the settlers either returning home or being murdered and the new border with the rump USSR being far too massive to effectively control but holds back on portraying it as a disaster zone or that important.


If the cornerstone of Nazi policy is acknowledged as a failure and the death toll in trying to make it happen is high enough for the freaking Nazis to worry about the public losing faith and so subtly pretend nothing is really happening one way or the other...I think that could use more exploration.


The world building is rather interesting but I think that as great as the book is (and it is great) plausibility is not the only short coming, the setting is bit underwhelming. Total Nazi domination of Europe is portrayed as kind of tame, the colonization efforts of the east have failed but aren't worth expanding on at all and suddenly the Holocaust is the thing that threatens to break it all apart? I guess its just I feel even on its own terms the book doesn't live up to its promise.
 

RyanF

Abbot of Unreason
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Falkirk
Great review, I wasn’t really into AH when I read Fatherland, nor was I that aware of Robert Harris but now I’m big fans of both it’s always going to be special for me. I think that whilst you point out the Nazi victory scenario was arguably overdone even prior to its release Fatherland has arguably shaped the scope of such scenarios more than any other work. It’s no coincidence that so many Nazi victory TLs seem to stall around 1964.
Indeed, I think what Harris succeeded in was taking something that had already been done to death and putting a new (and arguably better) spin on it. Nazi Germany emerges from the Second World War victorious, but gone is its global domination, gone is the Empire of Japan also emerging victorious and in its place is a Third Reich largely confined to Europe locked in a Cold War with the United States.

On Heydrich, I’ve seen it theorised that his survival is actually the PoD with him going on to influence the discovery that Enigma had been cracked. Plausibility wise the scenario doesn’t really hold up but Nazi victory scenarios are always going to suffer from that, and it’s vague enough to imply that Harris was aware of this, or at least was more focused on telling an interesting story in a well crafted dystopia than proving that the Nazis could have won the war.
A fair explanation, and the presence of Heydrich as chief conspirator does add something to the proceedings. I always enjoyed in the novel how Eichmann, who OTL became probably the most infamous attendee of the Wannsee Conference, in the Fatherland ATL is just another forgotten apparatchik eliminated by Heydrich before the events of the novel.

I think one failing point is how Harris acknowledges that the Nazis were never going to make General Plan Ost work properly with most of the settlers either returning home or being murdered and the new border with the rump USSR being far too massive to effectively control but holds back on portraying it as a disaster zone or that important.


If the cornerstone of Nazi policy is acknowledged as a failure and the death toll in trying to make it happen is high enough for the freaking Nazis to worry about the public losing faith and so subtly pretend nothing is really happening one way or the other...I think that could use more exploration.


The world building is rather interesting but I think that as great as the book is (and it is great) plausibility is not the only short coming, the setting is bit underwhelming. Total Nazi domination of Europe is portrayed as kind of tame, the colonization efforts of the east have failed but aren't worth expanding on at all and suddenly the Holocaust is the thing that threatens to break it all apart? I guess its just I feel even on its own terms the book doesn't live up to its promise.
This is a fair point, but one of the strong points of Harris in worldbuilding within the novel is just things like this that really add colour. There's an argument to be made that his ATL is stymied by the novel it is latched on to. Certainly I agree that the hints we get of the situation in the East just wets the appetite for more, but the fact it is left as a background detail of everyday fact to the characters speaks volumes. The train loads of coffins arriving in the dead of night, the fact Jost being assigned to the East is accepted by March as a death sentence, the implication of what's missing from the propaganda given the acceptance of the fact that communication is patchy out East.

I would love to see something done in a failing Reichskommissariat after the War, it's one of the reasons Mark Lynch's Reich of Renegades was so appealing.

There's plenty of other aspects of the world Harris created I'd like to see more on. The coming generation of Germans that did not live through either World War strikes me as being a great idea as well. The fact that the Fab Four are playing in Hamburg and are big enough to make the papers but similar enough to their OTL counterparts to be decried, the fact the White Rose is active again, that there's a new crop of university educated SS technocrats in ascendancy. What's life like in the UK of this TL twenty years after being starved into surrender is another? Was there ever a Hungarian Revolution type situation ITTL with one of the Nazi puppet states?

With regard to the Holocaust breaking everything apart, we only have March's final hallucination that Maguire made it out. Even if it breaks the international news it will still be very difficult for it to penetrate the Reich proper or even Europe. Even if they did I wonder if it would break it apart more than inspire the new generation of White Rose et al. into some direct action akin to our own 1960s student movements.
 

Skinny87

Stupid Sexy Marc Ozall
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Published by SLP
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Fantastic review, Ryan, and very glad to see that you'll be able to keep reviewing when I have to cut down on AH reviews due to real life - the blog's in good hands!
 

Alex Richards

She needs an artificial Mountain, not AV
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Derbyshire
There's plenty of other aspects of the world Harris created I'd like to see more on. The coming generation of Germans that did not live through either World War strikes me as being a great idea as well. The fact that the Fab Four are playing in Hamburg and are big enough to make the papers but similar enough to their OTL counterparts to be decried, the fact the White Rose is active again, that there's a new crop of university educated SS technocrats in ascendancy. What's life like in the UK of this TL twenty years after being starved into surrender is another? Was there ever a Hungarian Revolution type situation ITTL with one of the Nazi puppet states?

With regard to the Holocaust breaking everything apart, we only have March's final hallucination that Maguire made it out. Even if it breaks the international news it will still be very difficult for it to penetrate the Reich proper or even Europe. Even if they did I wonder if it would break it apart more than inspire the new generation of White Rose et al. into some direct action akin to our own 1960s student movements.
I mean it could be that the combination of these two leads to an attempt at *Prague in London.
 

RyanF

Abbot of Unreason
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I mean it could be that the combination of these two leads to an attempt at *Prague in London.
That's a real possibility, and I think unlike the similar situation portrayed in @Meadow's Meet the New Boss the Reich owing to requirements in the East along with two decades of peace in Western Europe might not be able to ship the tanks across the Channel with any urgency.
 

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
Huh, I had never noticed until now that the first UK edition of the book featured the flag of the European Union next to the Nazi one on its cover. Because why waste an opportunity to associate European integration with Nazi Germany, it's not like that will ever be taken seriously by anyone down the line.

 

Thande

BidenHarris, vaccine, England's got the same Queen
Published by SLP
I always bring up the fact that it has the OTL EU flag on the cover, and maybe that's the cover artist, but I think it's called the European Union in-story as well. Always felt that was going a bit far!

Amusingly enough, I think it recently came out on social media that Harris is an FBPE type (I may have misremembered the exact details). But then, as someone who writes sci-fi novels in which a federalised and expanded EU is Earth's biggest superpower, I can't exactly complain his actual politics don't match what his books imply.
 

The Red

Well-known member
Published by SLP
Huh, I had never noticed until now that the first UK edition of the book featured the flag of the European Union next to the Nazi one on its cover. Because why waste an opportunity to associate European integration with Nazi Germany, it's not like that will ever be taken seriously by anyone down the line.


It's the flag of the European Community, which is described in the book to be the same as that of the EU. Harris himself was a fervent remainer so I wouldn't try to read anything into it.
 

Thande

BidenHarris, vaccine, England's got the same Queen
Published by SLP
It's the flag of the European Community, which is described in the book to be the same as that of the EU. Harris himself was a fervent remainer so I wouldn't try to read anything into it.
It's called the Community in the book is it? I mean, that's even odder in some ways.

Why would any Nazi-backed pan-European organisation use that same symbolism given its OTL origins? I know even otherwise intelligent authors can have absurdly convergent things, but it really did feel like it was making some kind of very unsubtle political point - so Harris' actual views just knock the last prop away from a distasteful but at least logical explanation of its use.
 

The Red

Well-known member
Published by SLP
It's called the Community in the book is it? I mean, that's even odder in some ways.
It was actually floated by Ribbentrop IOTL, although some sources use the name "Confederation" rather than "Community". He always liked to try and inflate his own influence by emphasising the importance of diplomacy, even when it came to puppets, and the EC was largely meant for propaganda. Basically it would give teeth to the notion of a Europe united under German stewardship that some collaborators liked to enterain and the Germans themselves liked to encourage after Stalingrad. Hitler dismissed the idea so it never went anywhere.


Why would any Nazi-backed pan-European organisation use that same symbolism given its OTL origins? I know even otherwise intelligent authors can have absurdly convergent things, but it really did feel like it was making some kind of very unsubtle political point - so Harris' actual views just knock the last prop away from a distasteful but at least logical explanation of its use.
It's mentioned that the stars represent the member states rather than the more religious background of the OTL flag so I'm guessing it was just Harris having fun with parallelism.
 

Death's Companion

General Ugg Apologist.
It's called the Community in the book is it? I mean, that's even odder in some ways.

Why would any Nazi-backed pan-European organisation use that same symbolism given its OTL origins? I know even otherwise intelligent authors can have absurdly convergent things, but it really did feel like it was making some kind of very unsubtle political point - so Harris' actual views just knock the last prop away from a distasteful but at least logical explanation of its use.
The Nazis in Harris' book were making nice to the Americans and there was rumblings about Europeans all being one big family so send conscripts to the urals please.

I think the idea was that the Reich rebranded itself as the new modern European state. The whole keeping the holocaust secret fits into it, it seems at some point the Nazis got a brain transplant and cared about PR in occupied nations.


I think the real issue with that is just well its plausible from the view of a super power trying to keep half the world occupied to put a lot of time and effort into broadening its base, its just not plausible that the OTL Nazis would suddenly try and seem hip and cool and progressive and relaxed to try and keep people under thumb by not stepping too hard. Its like the opposite of the whole totalitarian thing they had going.
 

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
It's the flag of the European Community, which is described in the book to be the same as that of the EU. Harris himself was a fervent remainer so I wouldn't try to read anything into it.
I'm not blaming Harris, but in the story the alternate European Community is a completely incidental detail, so what I wonder about is the ulterior motive of featuring the flag prominently on the cover, when it would have been just as good to have the swastika alone. Not to mention that a European organization of states in a victorious Nazi TL would have absolutely nothing in common with its OTL counterpart, whose founders were all former opponents to Nazism. So the flag would be different too.

I mean, none of the other editions of the book do it, so why this one?
 

ShortsBelfast

Well-known member
I'm not blaming Harris, but in the story the alternate European Community is a completely incidental detail, so what I wonder about is the ulterior motive of featuring the flag prominently on the cover, when it would have been just as good to have the swastika alone. Not to mention that a European organization of states in a victorious Nazi TL would have absolutely nothing in common with its OTL counterpart, whose founders were all former opponents to Nazism. So the flag would be different too.

I mean, none of the other editions of the book do it, so why this one?
Um.. the European organisation of states was partly the brainchild of the Reich foreign office as mentioned above. Rudolph Hess and the Haushofers were also among its intellectual fathers and Josef Burkel was a very keen euro federalist who kept Robert Schumann as his personal prisoner for most of the war (presumably with a view to making use of him). And I read a very good book on the Speer Bichelonne talks twenty years ago which traced the histories of a lot of the minor participants. The odious but influential and euro federalist Ernst Aschenbach was one and two others- the legal counsel to the German army of occupation and one of the top men in the French railways (who to be fair was also a Resistant by night) went on to be European Commissioners. And a lot of the others went on to head up either French or German industry organisations or big corporations.
 

The Red

Well-known member
Published by SLP
I'm not blaming Harris, but in the story the alternate European Community is a completely incidental detail, so what I wonder about is the ulterior motive of featuring the flag prominently on the cover,
There's a scene outside the European Parliament in Berlin that has the flags flying together and it works as a good contrast to show how warped this world is that two flags with very different meanings could be together. It's the sort of thing that AH covers often go for whereas making random political statements isn't the sort of thing major American publishers go for so I wouldn't be too worried about any ulterior motive.

Not to mention that a European organization of states in a victorious Nazi TL would have absolutely nothing in common with its OTL counterpart, whose founders were all former opponents to Nazism. So the flag would be different too.
As mentioned the flag is described as being the same in the book. You might as well take issue with the Beatles still being around or the V3 being a rocket rather than a cannon.
 

napoleon IV

Khanstitutional Amendment
Location
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I'm not blaming Harris, but in the story the alternate European Community is a completely incidental detail, so what I wonder about is the ulterior motive of featuring the flag prominently on the cover, when it would have been just as good to have the swastika alone. Not to mention that a European organization of states in a victorious Nazi TL would have absolutely nothing in common with its OTL counterpart, whose founders were all former opponents to Nazism. So the flag would be different too.

I mean, none of the other editions of the book do it, so why this one?
This is getting dangerously similar to those Christians who analyze random rock lyrics to prove that the artists are in league with Satan.
 
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