What an excellent book!
The version that I read was a twentieth anniversary edition of Robert Harris’s breakthrough novel. In the forward, he explains how the concept of a work of fiction based on a world in which Germany had prevailed as victors in WWII. It came to him, in the eighties, when he was researching for a non-fiction book about Hitler’s forged diaries. Consequently there is a lot of factual basis to the story. But it was written almost by accident.
Fatherland is enacted in the sixties. This is so that many of the principal characters of the Third Reich, including Adolph Hitler himself, could realistically still be living. The crimes which are being investigated by Xavier March, an ex U-boat commander turned detective, occur during the build up to Hitler’s 75th birthday celebrations in Berlin. There is a great deal of animosity between the criminal investigation branch of the police force, and the Gestapo. The state is based on fear. People are still grassing on their fellow citizens, and even family, for capital crimes such as homosexuality and expressing anti-state sentiments.
When Zavi is called on to investigate the discovery of a body on the shore of the Havel lake, life quickly becomes dangerous for him. The victim is a very senior public figure. The Gestapo become involved, and order the criminal investigator to back off. Smelling a huge rat, Zavi ignores the order, to his peril.
The descriptions of post war, triumphalist Berlin, with its monstrous statues which out-do anything ever seen in any other European capital city by a long way, reminds me of Caucescu’s Bucharest of the eighties. It could so easily have become reality in sixties Berlin.
There is even a reference to the Nazi state frowning on the student rapture which greets a band from Liverpool, in the British colony of the Reich!
Needless to say, Investigator March continues to dig a deeper and deeper hole for himself. The enormity of the events which lay behind the initial murder, and subsequent horrors, builds the tension and grips the reader.
Harris’s imagination and creativity verge on genius. This is truly a thriller. Read it!