Fatherland intrigued me as soon as it was brought to Bee’s bookshare. A novel set in 1964, in an alternative time if Hitler and his Nazi party had won WWII. Fascinating.
You can tell from the cover it’s going to be a thriller – the foreboding black and red, the Nazi eagle… I don’t read thrillers often, but when I do I like them to be fast-paced page turners. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Published in 1992, the book’s been out for a fair while, and if Wikipedia is anything to go by has sold over 3 million copies and been translated into 25 languages. Can you detect that the hysteria around Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code had also engulfed Harris’s novel a decade earlier? I imagine so.
From the first page I was hooked. Harris convincingly sets the scene, which he does so throughout the book, of a changed world. Germania reigns supreme, with a new Berlin as the epicentre. The city’s been flattened and rebuilt with gigantic austere Reich buildings. Everything is organised, scrutinised, cleansed and sanitised so that there is no question of how things are done – the Nazi way. There’s an Orwellian undertone, which is evident but not sycophantic.
Detective Xavier March is called to investigate a body that has been found washed up by a lake on the outskirts of Berlin. You immediately warm to cranky March – who in my head was much like Mikael Blomkvist from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – he’s someone who’s succumbed to the system but whose unwavering humane core refuses to let him just follow the party line.
Just by trying to solve the simple case of the body found in the lake, March goes on a nail-biting trail that leads him to discover a raft of wartime corruption.
And it’s this that we’re really following – the story of human nature, our quest for truth and the perils of our curiosity. I was swept along by Harris, completely compelled by his characters and plot. I just couldn’t put the book down.
But now that I’ve finished the book, it’s still haunting me. That’s not just because it was a fast-paced devourable read. It’s because the most chilling element of Fatherland, the thing that you really can’t shake off, is that the crime at the heart of the Nazi party March uncovers is no fiction. The mass murder of the Jews happened. Millions of people were destroyed. Families were killed off. Human nature revealed it’s very darkest side. And it’s legacy… it’s legacy so very nearly existed. Harris’s world could have easily been the world we live in today. It’s a story line that even the very best writer would struggle to create. Now that’s a sobering thought.
‘You can’t build on a mass grave. Human beings are better than that – they have to be better than that – I do believe it – don’t you? He did not reply.’
You can read a review of Guardian book club review of Fatherland here.
Watch the 1994 TV dramatisation of the book here.
I’ve now started on this – another book share spoil – which I thought would be a good follow on from Fatherland. And satisfy my dose of thrillers for the year!