What did you do in the war, Pater—eh, Vater?
Let’s suppose, as Sansom does in this long, engaging bit of speculative fiction, that the Nazis had won the war. Or, perhaps more specifically, that they had stared the British down, won concessions from Lloyd George (who had “spent the thirties idolizing Hitler, calling him Germany’s George Washington”) and effectively made the United Kingdom a satellite of the Third Reich. Winston Churchill, pressed to join the Quisling government, instead spearheads a vee-for-victory resistance movement, while German racial purity laws gradually come into effect on the streets of London, with most residents only too glad to be rid of the Jews; meanwhile, critics of the regime, such as W.H. Auden and E.M. Forster, have been silenced. To judge by his name and appearance, David Fitzgerald should have no trouble in the new Britain, but his bloodline tells a different tale: “He knew that under the law he too should have worn a yellow badge, and should not be working in government service, an employment forbidden to Jews”—even half-Jews, even Irish Jews. His wife, for her part, is content at first to keep her head down and her mouth shut until the Final Solution comes to the sceptered isle. If there is hope, it will come from America, where, as one dour Brit remarks, “they love their superweapons, the Americans. Almost as bad as the Germans.” Sansom’s scenario is all too real, and it has sparked a modest controversy among it-couldn’t-happen-here readers across the water. More important than the scenario is his careful unfolding of the vast character study that fascism affords, his portraits of those who resist and those who collaborate and why. That scenario, after all, is not new; Philip K. Dick, Len Deighton and Philip Roth have explored it, too. What matters is what is done with it, and Sansom has done admirably.
A rich and densely plotted story that will make Winston Churchill buffs admire the man even more.