Monday, December 10, 2007

BOOK REVIEW - In the Presence of Mine Enemies

In the Presence of Mine Enemies
Harry Turtledove
New American Library, 2003
454 pages

In the Presence of Mine Enemies is set in the year 2010. Germany conquered Europe in World War II and then went on to conquer the United States in World War III, dropping atomic weapons on Washington, D.C. in the process. Hitler's solution to the "Jewish Question" has been carried out on a world-wide scale. Against this backdrop we meet Heinrich Gimple and his family, Jews living and working in Berlin, the heart of the Greater German Reich. His family and the other jewish families they know have disguised themselves as Aryans. They have forged their family trees and histories. The men go uncircumcised. They eat pork. They do not celebrate any of the usual Jewish holidays in the traditional manner but rather they celebrate in their heart. They do the best they can to lie low and pass without notice. The biggest problem in their life is their three daughters. As the novel opens they are telling their eldest, Alicia, that she is a Jew. Alicia is just ten years old and has spent all ten of those years learning the same lessons every other good German has learned; how the Jews are to be reviled and are untermenschen. The novel follows the day to day lives of the Gimples and their friends through what, in the end, becomes a tumultuous two years for the Reich.

I absolutely loved this book! Despite my misgivings about the premise and the cognitive dissonance I would suffer at times in the book, this is an excellent tale that deserves to be read by everybody. I really do not know what else I can say. I plowed through this book in a little less than a week and was so into it that I actually ended up taking it to work and reading it at my desk rather than the text I am supposed to be reading right now. The last seventy pages are very close to the best seventy pages of prose I have read this year.

As I noted I have some misgivings about the premise and suffered from some cognitive dissonance while reading this novel. The misgivings I have surround the possibility of Germany being able to win the Second World War and then turn around and prosecute a war against the United States and win. Even if the United States stays out of World War II or is effectively bottled up on North America, the Wehrmacht would have been ground to pieces against the Soviet war machine and I think that even a generation later Germany would still be too weak to fight a war across the Atlantic. The cognitive dissonance I suffered from while reading this novel is that, despite knowing it was set in 2010, I could not help but visualize things as though they were still stuck in 1945. When Turtledove talks about riding the bus I see the bus as a curvy diesel affair rather than the more modern and boxy buses we have today. When he talks about Luftwaffe Alfa, the Fuhrer's plane, I cannot help but see a Junkers Ju-52 and when he talks about the Messerschmitt 662 jets which escort Luftwaffe Alfa I cannot help but see the Me 262 jets fighters. While this did not distract me at all while reading the book, I found it amusing once I sat down to think about what I had read.

In the final analysis this book is important and while Turtledove does not have anything new to say about our all too human failings, it is an interesting look at a world that might not be as far away as you think. Go forth and read this book. You will not regret it.

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