Saturday, 22 September 2012

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

I was nursing a bit of a post-hunger-games book hangover at the time of reading, so had gone for
something completely different.

I started this knowing only the basics: It's an alternate future (or past, I guess, as it's the 1960s) where the Axis forces won World War II.  That was all I knew.  Having finished the book I'm not sure I'm any the wiser.

The narrative switches between several story groups.  They never really link up, so I assume the Author is trying to show a sort of cross-section of life in Japanese San Francisco.  The character groups are:

  • Robert Childan, a middle aged US citizen Antique Americana dealer and a young Japanese couple he becomes besotted with.  The antiques dealer sort of flips between admiration for the unemotional efficiency of the 'superior' Japanese race and hatred and contempt for them, seeing what the American nation has been reduced to.  He adopts the Eastern ways of thinking and acting, he worries that his behaviour is unappealing or vulgar.   He still secretly retains the opinion that the Japanese are trespassers and that they are ultimately inferior to his own race of Americans.
  • Frank Frink, an illegal Jew beginning a jewellery business.  He attempts to revive the pride of the US art world, offering something contemporary and new, rather than pre-war household tat that has proven so popular with the Japanese.  We also meet his estranged wife, Julianna and an Italian soldier that she goes on an ill-fated road-trip with.
  • An elderly Japanese diplomat, Nobusuke Tagomi, and his dealings with a Swedish plastics technician.
  • The Nazis pop up now and again.  The backdrop for the whole plot is the death of the Nazi Party's leader and the choosing of his successor.

Canada also appears to be the only country not currently possessed by either the Germans or the Japanese.  Poor Canada.  Even the fascists shun it.

The most interesting aspect of this book so far for me has been the characters' discussion of a banned book The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, an in-narrative novel depicting a fictional alternative future where the Allied forces won the war.

The former US states are divided up between the Japanese and the German empires.
Note the apparent neutrality of Canada...
I think this is where I fell down with this book.  Ultimately, I know very little next to nothing about the Second World War.  Most of what I do know, I learned from Call of Duty.  To me, all Russians therefore sound like Gary Oldman.  The Grasshopper Lies Heavy depicts several events that I presume happened in the WWII.  A War buff could read this and bask happily in the topsy-turvyness of it all.  I'm just sat there thinking, "So did that happen in real life?  Is the actual author making this fictional author seem like a crazy person, a dimension traveller or a prophet?  What was it that enabled the Allies to win the war that didn't happen here?"

So while I'm sure this was a very intelligent and well written book that makes profound comments on the nature of power and the position of the victors,  it just failed to make any connection to my non-American and history-starved brain.  Which is more my fault than its

No comments:

Post a Comment