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Thursday, July 17, 2008

“The Man with the Iron Heart” by Harry Turtledove

Official Harry Turtledove Website
Order “The Man With the Iron Heart
Read An Excerpt HERE

Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu:

INTRODUCTION: Harry Turtledove needs no introduction. He is the author that almost single-handedly transformed alternate-history into a thriving subgenre with the many novels and stories that he publishes each year, which blend together science fiction, fantasy and historical fiction. Inspired by current headlines and following his excellent novelette News From the Front (Asimov's July 2007), “The Man with the Iron Heart” has a simple premise: What if Germany, after their surrender in 1945, reacted like Iraq did after their surrender in 2003? In other words, Reichsprotektor Reinhardt Heydrich is not assassinated in Prague in 1943, and starts preparing a resistance late that year, in the event that Germany loses the war…

SETTING: American and Russian zones of occupation in Germany from May 1945 to 1948 with subplots in the United States, France, Britain and the French/British zones of occupation.

FORMAT/INFO: The ARC I have stands at 528 pages divided into thirty-two numbered chapters. There is a prologue and a short afterword explaining the historical context, giving references to books about the actual German Werewolf resistance that never took off in 1945 and fizzled shortly after, as well as some moments that may seem too outrageous to be believable but are actually based on real people, facts and comments. The narration is third-person present tense via multiple POVs. The main characters include a US intelligence officer of Jewish origin and his boss; a Russian NKVD officer and his Jewish superior; a stay-at-home US mom that creates an American soldier mothers’ organization to bring them home from Germany; her Republican congressman who wants to use the increasing dissatisfaction of the public with mounting US casualties during the occupation to change the balance of power in Congress and humiliate President Truman; and Heydrich and his personal aide, while several other secondary characters get some face time as well.

The book is self-contained and there are no easy answers in it, but there is ample scope for a sequel.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: This novel starts with a bang—literally. It is May 1945 and Germany has just surrendered. Two US soldiers watch idly as a German civilian seems to check out the wreckage of a truck to see if there is something that can be salvaged. Of course we “know” that the German is actually planting an IED and soon the soldiers are blown to pieces—and so it begins…

I do not want to spoil the novel since most of its enjoyment comes from the nasty discoveries of what the Germans are up to. So think of any appalling headline you’ve read or seen from 9/11 and on—and some that luckily for us have not been translated in reality—transposed into the 1945-1948 setting, and you will have an idea of what to expect.

The reaction of various parties is very realistic based on historical record. The Russians rape, torture and shoot any German unlucky to be on the scene of an attack, while the German resistance retaliates gruesomely too. The French are almost as bad as the Russians. The US has no clear policy, so some officers shoot the Germans, some torture and kill them creatively afterwards, and some treat them as POW's.

When there is the inevitable film screening of an American, and later a Russian private, taken captive and begging for their lives on camera, the reactions again are as expected. The US tries to cover it up—no Internet then—but the intrepid US media is not to be denied. The Russians take some German terrorists that are questioned in their jails, cut them into small pieces and leave those for Heydrich's boys to find.

The shock of the atomic bombing and unconditional surrender of Japan reverberates and leads various parties to action.

And then there is the moms’ organization to bring the boys home, the opportunistic politicians, the beleaguered President—Democrat Truman in this case—the hapless generals brought in front of Congressional Committees for the show grilling and so on. There is also a supposedly impregnable US compound for families and children, another supposedly impregnable Russian compound, the German moderates like Adenauer that try to build something, the US trained German police, etc...

Outside of historical events, the plot follows two sets of parallel investigators in American Intelligence Lt. Weissberg and Col. Frank; and Russians NKVD Cpt. Bokov and Col. Shteinberg reacting to the events, fighting red tape, the malevolence of their superiors and supposed allies as well as the Germans who try and get Heydrich and as much of the German terrorists as they can, while trying to prevent as many attacks as possible.

Can the Americans and Russians work together, and if so, will a collaboration finally lead to Heydrich himself?

What is the future of the US occupied zone?

These are some of the more important plot points of the novel and while there are no facile answers, there is a definite conclusion to the novel.

There is no moral judgment by the author between the “bring the boys home” and “try to pacify Germany to the bitter end” camps, no happy ending, though Heydrich and his thugs do not get off easily or are presented as heroic or anything like that.

Overall, I liked the book though it's a pretty grim and depressing read. But no more than your favorite dystopian novel.

Dark, with no room for sentimentalism, grounded in real history as well as contemporary headlines, and a pure page turner, “The Man with the Iron Heart” is highly recommended…


Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I haven't gotten into alternative history (I like my facts and fictions separate, please) but THIS book sounds fascinating. I'm intrigued by the fact that we can analyze modern events by putting them in a different setting. This is going on my TBR list for sure!

Robert said...

I'm not too big on alternate history myself, and I've never read anything by Mr. Turtledove, but this book does sound fascinating :)

Liviu said...

I have read maybe 18-20 Turtledove novels including some straight historicals written under the hard to guess pseudonym Turtletaub :)

If there is any period out there that tempts you from alternate WW2 with aliens or magic to alt US history, to ice age epic fantasy, to classical Greek or Byzantine stories and much more, that Mr. Turtledove put out I recommend it as very well done - maybe not the greatest prose, but believable and well researched

This book has been criticized by some people as "Nazi Porn" - without those bothering to read it since as mentioned in the review, the Nazis and Heydrich are less important to the story than the US and Russian soldiers, officers, population.

If you want a Turtledove book about Nazis - and again remember that Mr. Turtledove is Jewish himself so just read first - I recommend In the Presence of Mine Enemies with both a Gorbachev/Yeltsin analog 60 or so years after Nazi Germany won the war and the last Nazi leader from the war generation Austrian born Kurt Haldweim :) dies at old age and there is a struggle to replace him - and with the desperate few Jewish survivors that leave a double life and try to survive as well as they can inside the Reich...

That one is much more emotional than this one and while it may not be for purists of alternate history, it may a good place to start reading Mr. Turtledove

Cheryl said...

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