Sunday, August 7, 2011

In the Presence of Mine Enemies

I enjoy what if-stories and alternate histories, so I have no idea why it took me so long to find Harry Turtledove. He was recommended to me on the same day by Padre and a friend of mine and my friend loaned me In the Presence of Mine Enemies. Who am I to argue with that kind of synchronicity.

The book takes place in a fictional Germany that has won WWII (and WWIII) and is pretty much the only superpower left. But when the current Führer died, he is replaced by a man who is a reformer - his ideas create quite an uproar and lead to civil unrest and even an attempted coup d'état.

All this is told from the perspective of Heinrich Gimpel and his family, who are Jews, hidden away in plain sight. The Nazis think they were successful in killing all Jews, but in truth many pass as Aryans. The secret is revealed to every Jewish child at his or her 10th birthday.

I liked the whole idea of this and there are many situations in the book that show just how difficult it would be to lead such a life, although I think that in truth it would be every more difficult and would place even more of a strain on the people forced to live this lie.

The people start to demonstrate against the SS who try desperately to keep in power against the wishes of the new Führer and those scenes are really exciting and thrilling to read. There's a sense of history happening, right in front of the characters and they know it. I'm sure that everyone who was there when the Berlin Wall fell, for example, felt that way. The cries of "We are the people!" in the book are definitely a nod towards the demonstrations that were a big part of the eventual fall of the GDR and the whole story has strong parallels to the fall of the Soviet Union.

I was a bit puzzled to find Odilo Globocnik as the leader of the coup d'état . Yes, I know, it's an alternate history, but it just didn't feel right. Other historical figures lead a different life, but they were still living in their own time, not a completely different one (the book is set in 2010). The same goes for Ilse Koch, who appears as a school teacher.

One thing that annoyed me were the German phrases. It was probably done to add some more realism, but couldn't the editors please find a native speaker to proofread? Even a dictionary would have helped (it's pfennige, for example, not pfennigs). Printing the German words in italics also makes me read them as particularly emphasised, which they were not supposed to be. I don't know if it is only me or only people who speak German, but I could have done without that.

Those minor criticisms aside, I found the book to be very enjoyable and thought-provoking. If you have in interest in history, I would absolutely recommend it.

7th book for the Science Fiction Challenge

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