I always found studying history to be a game of ‘What if?’. What if Abraham Lincoln fought for instead of against slavery? What if the Vikings never invaded Britain? What if Henry VIII had not formed the Church of England?
Perhaps the ‘What if…’ I’ve wanted to know about most is ‘What if the Germans had won the war?’ It’s interesting to speculate what would have happened if we had lost the war. Mostly it is assumed that we would all be blond haired blue eyed Germans. So when I found this book, I was excited to see my questions answered.
The Man in the High Castle presents an alternate universe in which the allies lost the war and the world is then divided between the Germans and the Japanese. A map from the website, Brilliant Maps, shows how to world was divided up between the two powers, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
The book is set in an alternate America in 1962, following the lives of a few individuals living with the new Nazi/Japanese regime.
When I picked this book I was in fact expecting some sort of chronological narrative of what happened when the Allies lost. Instead, I was thrown in at the deep end, left to tread waters of this new world as many of the Americans had. When I finally grasped what was going on though, I found the book thrilling at points and really interesting. The book gave a real sense of being a prisoner in your own home, Americans felt like strangers in their own country.
What I liked most about the book is the fictional novel in the book which is about what would happen if the Allies had won the war, as they had. However, the reality is detailed was actually different to our own. The book was called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, by Hawthorne Abendsen, the eponymous man in the High Castle. The Germans banned the book, but it still seemed to be popular. I liked this plot device because it seemed to provide some hope to the characters.
Many of those in the book fully accept Japanese culture. A lot of the characters consult something called the I Ching when making decisions. It’s an ancient divination text that produces something called a hexagram and thus a reading which will guide the person using it (I could be wrong, do google it if you want a proper explanation). I found that they consult this text quite interesting as it seemed that they had surrendered control of their lives to the I Ching rather than making the decisions themselves.
It definitely felt like a book I need to read again, and I need to do some background research to understand it fully. Japanese and German culture featured a lot, obviously so at lot of that stuff sort of flew over my head. I feel like I didn’t know much about the war to understand how exactly the alternative timeline is different. I definitely would read it again though, just after the research.