A new edition of Robert Harris’s classic bestselling thriller Fatherland, to celebrate its 20th anniversary is hitting the bookshop shelves and online stores.
It’s set in an alternate 1964, in a universe in which Hitler and the Nazis won World War II. Harris would not be the first to imagine an alternative history and fictionalise about how things might have panned out had the “other” side won a war. Harris’ “speculative fiction” though enters into historical scenarios that lead to different outcomes to those we know as accepted recorded history – often without question or critique, for often a critique is looked down upon as historical revisionism; as something bad or negative. Very often, indeed, we hear and read the phrase that “victors write the history” with hidden facts and twisted truths.
John Mullan writes in the Guardian, last weekend:“One wonders if this book’s success was one reason for the proliferation of “counter-factual” histories in the last couple of decades. What this genre plays on is our sense of contingency. There is no divine plan. No outcome is inevitable. Evil is as likely to triumph as good. Harris’s axiom is German victory over the Soviet Union, its remaining forces driven back beyond the Urals. The US is too powerful to be defeated, but with the conquest of Britain there can be no D-Day. The conceit behind the book is a nightmarish one: not only that the Nazis have won, but that, with the old leaders dead or ageing and a smoother new generation taking over, détente with this monstrous regime becomes necessary. The plot of Fatherland is set in motion by Heydrich’s efforts to insure that those entrusted with knowledge of the “final solution” – die Endlösung – do not emerge to stand in the way of a rapprochement with the United States. The grimmest speculation plays by the rules of a German idea: realpolitik.”
While many may pass Harris’ Fatherland of as speculative fiction, a good thriller to read curled up in the sofa on a rainy afternoon, the one thing of truth that it strongly represents is that millions of murders (more murders than what the Nazi regime committed) by the Communists still remain buried with little mention and absolutely no punishment.
Perhaps in this lies an underlying effort by Harris to remind the world – with a new edition of his bestselling novel – that more needs to be done in pursuit of justice for all victims of WWII. That justice still to be served upon Communist crimes must not remain some counter-factual mindset that has no other outcome except unceasing bitter debates as to which mass murders were justified and which were not. When the truth is that none must remain unpunished. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)
Writer Robert Harris discusses how realpolitik may have led western governments to gloss over the Nazis’ crimes if Hitler had won the Second World War. This is an excerpt from Harris’s discussion of Fatherland with John Mullan at the Guardian Open Weekend festival on 24 March 2012: