Literature / Fatherland

This was to be the German Millenium, from which even the imagination was to have no means of escape.
— Hugh Trevor-Roper, quoted in Fatherland

Fatherland is a 1992 Alternate History novel written by Robert Harris. It was adapted into a film in 1994. The story is set in a Nazi-controlled Europe in the days leading up to Hitler's 75th birthday, where Berlin is rebuilt to Speer's designs.

It's the 1960s, in a version of history where Nazi Germany won World War II. A German policeman on what seems at first to be a routine murder investigation finds himself on the trail of an explosive political secret — the long-hushed-up truth about the Final Solution.

The book is one of the more realistic visions of a Nazi victory world.

Fatherland provides examples of:

  • Allohistorical Allusion: One rather subtle difference is that just as you start to wonder why "President Kennedy" is still alive and acting so Out of Character, the realization dawns that America elected former ambassador Joseph Kennedy, JFK's father.
  • Alternate History
  • Ambiguous Situation: The novel ends with March trapped in a standoff at the former site of Auschwitz, surrounded by Gestapo agents. As he draws his weapon, he imagines Charlie successfully managing to deliver the evidence to the US, though even he admits it's an unlikely possibility.
  • Animal Motifs: Xavier is compared to a fox by the narrator, who also says that he doesn't run with the (wolf) pack. (And groups of submarines are also called wolf packs. Xavier and Max were on subs during World War 2.) Max is compared to a bear.
  • Asshole Victim: Doesn't get much worse than the people who engineered the Holocaust.
  • Awful Truth: March learns the truth about the Jews “resettled east”
  • Batman Gambit: Krebs, Nebe, and Max act as though they are helping March escape, in hopes that he will lead them to Charlie. It doesn't work.
  • Big Bad Friend
  • Bigger Is Better: During the tour of Nazi monuments, the tour-guide makes a point of comparing everything to monuments in other countries and stressing how much bigger everything in Berlin is. It's deconstructed, however, since in his inner monologue March scathingly identifies this as merely a symptom of the culture-wide inferiority complex that Nazi society deep down suffers from.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: While March's ultimate fate is not explicitly mentioned, by the end of the novel, he is trapped in a standoff at the former site of Auschwitz, surrounded by Gestapo agents. And considering that he is armed only with his handgun...
  • Boom, Headshot: Luther’s fate
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: What March actually thinks of his son educated by the government, although he pretends to be proud of him.
  • Bury Your Gays: Invoked. The Reich doesn't take kindly to either suspected or confirmed homosexuals. While interviewing the SS cadet who found the first murder victim, March spots a major time hole in his statement, and suspects (correctly, as it turns out) that he doesn't go running early every morning through a secluded area of the Grunewald for fitness. He then uses that information to get Jost to reveal something even more important that he left out of his statement: he didn't see just a dead body in the Havel, but also the man who left him there. March does make a point of telling Jost that he couldn't care less about his sexual preferences; all he's interested in is the murder.
  • Can't Stop the Signal: Very ambiguously done; we only see what the main character is believing to be happening, not what is actually happening.
  • Cassandra Truth: Globus taunts March that no one will ever believe Germany could have committed such terrible acts.
    Globus: "There’s nothing there anymore, not even a brick. Nobody will ever believe it. And shall I tell you something? Part of you can’t believe it either."
  • Crapsack World: For Detective Xavier March, it most certainly is. Divorced? Check. Son hates you? Check. Nightmares? Check. PTSD? Check. Living in apartment previously owned by Jewish family, who were "sent East"? Check. Suddenly discovering that the regime you serve is full of mass murderers? (You see where this is going, right?)
    • Also for anyone who doubts or differs from the Party line on any of a thousand things. For example, we see a priest whose church is across the street from police HQ, in a regime which officially discourages religions other than Hitler-worship. He is not a cheerful-looking man.
  • Deadpan Snarker: March and Jaeger. Arthur Nebe as well.
  • Deconstruction: Of previous "Hitler wins the war" scenarios. Germany in 1964 is not a very nice place by any means, but rather than the 'the Nazis take over the entire planet' scenarios common to the sub-genre, it's clearly ended up as closer to being an analogue of the Soviet Union than an all-powerful unstoppable juggernaut. German territorial expansion is limited to the East, as planned in real life, while the nations of the west are clearly satellite states more-or-less subservient to German hegemony but nevertheless independent from direct German control (again, as planned in real life). Rather than invading the United States and conquering it, there's a Cold War between them which is starting to warm into an uneasy detente, and rather than the Thousand Year Reich lasting forever and ever it's implied that Germany is slowly beginning to stagnate and will ultimately collapse from within anyway.
  • The Determinator: Xavier March. No matter the setback—Jost’s deportation, Luther’s murder—March is determined to learn the truth.
  • Empire with a Dark Secret
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Pili AND Max
  • Evil All Along: Nebe and Jaeger
  • Final Solution: In the world of the novel, the Nazis have successfully completed it. And are now trying to ensure it stays secret forever.
  • For Want of a Nail: The Allohistorical Allusion mentioned above might seem like a minor detail, but it may be a hint at the story's "point of divergence". When Joseph Kennedy was ambassador to Britain he was strongly in favour of appeasement with Germany well into 1940, and lost a lot of public face because of it. In this timeline, although America still clashed with Imperial Japan, it stayed out of the war in Europe.
  • Foregone Conclusion: A rarity in an Alternate History, but the event itself has already happened - it's The Reveal that You Should Know Already; the protagonist is investigating some deep political conspiracy that has something to do with the Nazi party and concentration camps.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Charlie Maguire, a female journalist.
  • He Knows Too Much
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: While reading secret documents, Xavier comes across a real historical note about concentration camp victims' hair being cut off and turned into felt, which was then made into socks for U-boat crews. He reacts badly to the news that he wore dead Jews' hair during the war.
  • Hope Spot: Near the end of the book, after March has been horribly tortured by Globus, it appears that Arthur Nebe, Krebs and Max Jaeger have planned his escape so he can reveal the truth about the Holocaust to the world. However, March quickly deduces that they are trying to trick him into leading them to Maguire.
  • Inferiority Superiority Complex: The Nazis are fond of overtly and implicitly rubbing their victory in the faces of their defeated foes. Their monuments are bigger than everyone else's. Their sporting teams always win (even, it is hinted, if they have to cheat). And so on. March merely considers this as culture-wide evidence of how insecure and inferior the Germans actually feel deep down:
    Higher, bigger, longer, wider, more expensive... even in victory, Germany has a parvenu's inferiority complex. Nothing stands on its own. Everything has to be compared with what the foreigners have...
  • Intrepid Reporter: Charlie.
  • In Spite of a Nail: Played with; the English rock-and-roll band who are often mentioned as becoming increasingly popular with the youth are never explicitly named, but it's pretty clear that they're either supposed to be The Beatles or an alternate universe equivalent who are close enough to them to make no real difference.
  • Joggers Find Death: Jost witnesses Buhler's body disposal while out for a morning run.
  • May–December Romance: Xavier March and Charlie.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Doesn't get much more major than this one.
  • Nazi Protagonist: Averted. Despite holding the SS-rank of Sturmbannfuhrer (which equates roughly to Major in the Wehrmacht and Komissar in the pre-Nazi Germany police force), it's mentioned several times that, despite being a very capable investigator, the protagonist hasn't progressed further in his career because of his outright refusal to become a party member. It's why he has such a poor relationship with his ultra-Nazi son and ex-wife and one of the main reasons that the kid betrays him.
  • Only Sane Man: This exchange between Xavier and Charlie
    Xavier: "What do you do if you devote your life to discovering criminals, and it gradually occurs to you that the real criminals are the people you work for? What do you do when everyone tells you not to worry, you can't do anything about it, it was a long time ago?"
    Charlie: "I suppose you go crazy."
    Xavier: "Or worse. Sane."
  • Out, Damned Spot!: Xavi takes a long, long bath after the Heroic B.S.O.D. above.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Happens to Jost who is deported to the still-ongoing war against the Soviet Union in the Ural Mountains. This is mentioned several times throughout the novel as a meatgrinder of a war that kills men almost as fast as they're sent out.
  • Released to Elsewhere
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Protagonist Xavier shows occasional signs of this, which might have contributed to the breakdown of his marriage. Living through the war certainly left him with a much-diminished view of the Third Reich.
  • Slut-Shaming: Happens quite often to Charlie, since the perfect German woman stays in the kitchen.
  • Swiss Bank Account: The victims are revealed to have opened one. And stored proof of the Holocaust in it. The original purpose of the accounts - as a means for refugees from the Nazis to protect their assets - is also touched upon.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Downplayed if not outright subverted. Nazis are unquestionably treated as villains who committed terrible atrocities. However, they do not embody the stereotypical eccentricities often associated with Nazis. Instead they act as normal members of a totalitarian society.
  • Truth in Television / Shown Their Work: The author includes an explanatory note about the historical characters he uses in the novel and their actual fates, as well as the real-life documents that he cites- just in case anyone thought he made up the thing about the Holocaust.
  • Uriah Gambit: Globus has Jost deployed to the Eastern front, ridding Globus of the only witness to him dumping Buhler's body.
  • You Cannot Kill an Idea: "Cut a clearing in the forest of your mind, the trees are just waiting to reoccupy it." (rephrased)
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to millions of Jews who "were sent East"?