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A Disturbance of Fate Hardcover – May 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this daring and compulsively page-turning historical what-if fiction, Robert F. Kennedy, on a lightning trip to Los Angeles in his campaign for the presidency in 1968, narrowly misses assassination by Sirhan Sirhan. "Bobby" (he preferred to be called "Bob") is undeterred. In Chicago, where radical students are preparing to throw the coming Democratic presidential convention into chaos, he manages to enlist radical Dave Dellinger, as well as Mayor Daley, in a bid to avoid chaos. So commences a remarkably realistic alternative world story that is at heart a 700-page political document covering a single generation. Its enormous panoply of mostly genuine names all play the expected roles, sometimes with little introduction (readers with knowledge of the period and its actors will be at an advantage). Unapologetically opinionated, challenging, thought provoking, the book only gradually veers from established, or as Freedman puts it, "first timeline" history. (The novel's own history is the "RFK timeline.") It is a pretend chronicle that Ted Sorensen, who is also a character, might have written, with illuminating-even entertaining-footnotes for both time lines. Kennedy defeats Republican Richard Nixon, who vanishes for keeps. There is no Watergate, but Ronald Reagan waits in the wings. Kennedy withdraws American forces from Vietnam and, proposing simultaneous American and Soviet military withdrawal from Europe, resolves the Cold War. He fights off sex scandals, keeps his anti-abortion wife, Ethel, happy, makes some mistakes but is finally reelected. Despite its length, this is more than a fantasy about a departed icon of American culture. In its final chapters and a devastating appendix, it is revealed to be a cautionary tale as well.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Freedman sets a formidable task for himself: writing an alternative history that describes what American life would have been like had Robert Kennedy lived and been twice elected president. That's a fascinating premise, especially for anyone who lived through the 1960s, and Freedman's hefty tome explores the political, international, and even personal consequences of an RFK presidency. (Bobby is a faithful presidential husband in this alternative reality, but a scandal about past affairs almost derails him.) The book posits a different conclusion to the Vietnam incursion, follows continued labor strife, and addresses Kennedy's personal and political problems with abortion. There are also intriguing "what-if" campaigns against Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Freedman is more adept at exploring alternative scenarios than he is at evoking historical figures through dialogue; well-remembered personalities like Chicago's first Mayor Daley come off sounding like caricatures, and even RFK seems a bit bland. At almost 700 hundred pages (including a long introduction), this would have benefited from trimming, but the historical speculation is consistently interesting even when the fictional infrastructure turns wobbly. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Seven Locks Press (May 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931643229
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931643221
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,729,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rich alternate history since 1958 on July 17, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The novel is in the form of a political history of the RFK years, and then his Vice-President's term as President.... Mitchell had great fun finding roles for many familiar names from the late 1960s onward. He even has some unexpected events happen. My favorite is the Republicans getting a child care system passed, because it is must of the Republican feminist libertarian wing. While RFK wants child care delayed until the more important things he wants, are passed....

More of the excellent reviews have trouble with the ending. To me Mitchell goes into this, because he wants to explore some important truths:
1. All the political reforms never touched on how the political system actually worked, like the short cuts to get things done that bend the laws, or are unfair. Some of the things that are done are mostly for the benefit of the office holder.
2. The rise of the no holders barred political attack system, which turns politics into battles of good vs evil.
3. That there will always be people unhappy with conditions, no matter what is going on. And, these people are quite willing to hurt large numbers of people to get what they want, because it is for the greater good.
4. No matter how great reforms make life, there will be those that will never stop trying to undo those reforms.
5. There will never be " an end to history ", or to unintended consequences that pop up, creating new problems that have to be dealt with.
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22 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Clif Bowen on March 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Harold Bloom in HOW TO READ AND WHY argues that there are pleasures worth seeking in difficult books. Bloom's argument is an odd, atavistic plea, yet one that challenges a basic premise shared by many. Bloom's appeal is aimed at many modern readers who he perceives to have no patience for any book that interferes with the reading equivalent of the "easy listening" musical experience. Bloom tries to make the case that there are hidden pleasures even for the typical modern reader in the great writers of the past, Shakespeare and Milton for example, that justify the effort needed to wade through archaic language or to make sense of arcane metaphors and symbolism.
I am reminded of Bloom's argument after reading a review of A DISTURBANCE OF FATE that criticized the book because it is not easy enough to read and not sufficiently entertaining to be considered "literature." The truth is A DISTURBANCE OF FATE is not, and is not intended to be, an easy book to read. For those able to read seriously and expansively, and willing to make the effort, however, A DISTURBANCE OF FATE reveals itself to be an extraordinary book that engages readers on many levels. As such, the book is not intended to entertain in the same way we expect books by William Gibson and Stephen King to entertain us. Readers inclined to "easy listening" will find themselves overwhelmed by the breadth of scholarship in the book and impatient and mentally harassed by the book's intricacies and detail. Such readers may get hung up on superficial aspects of the narrative and will vent their frustration at its complexities by trying to dismiss the book in simpleminded ways, by claiming, for example, it is "doctrinaire leftism" or "retro labor radicalism.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Paul M Ragan on March 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"A Disturbance of Fate" is a deeply researched and thorough analysis of the political environment of the late 1960's, and the consequences that might likely have happened had Robert F. Kennedy gone on to win the Democratic primary and presidency in 1968. With amazing detail and an entertaining ear for dialect, Freedman introduces us to a wide variety of major personalities during the mid- to late-20th Century and reveals their relevance to our present-day lives and, more particularly, our modern political scene.
Having achieved the Presidency, RFK is faced with fulfilling his first and most important campaign promise - to bring US troops home from Vietnam. This proceeds in a way that is consistent with RFK's personality, both his politically calculating side and his side that spoke to his haunting need to realize his brother's best visions. RFK begins by mobilizing support from Republicans and hawkish Democrats, assuring (and subtly reorganizing) a deeply suspicious and resentful military, and orchestrating diplomatic missions with not only the Vietnamese, but other involved nations. The outcome is never clear, because Freedman does not neglect to deal with the setbacks and inevitable unforeseen consequences of such a complex undertaking. The early de-escalation of Vietnam marks a powerful new direction in US foreign policy, although what follows is anything but appeasement of Communist adventurism. There is, instead, the freedom for the US to pursue global policies that more closely track our democratic principles. In an atmosphere of reduced threat, many of the world's dictators find it more difficult to play the super powers against each other.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Larkins on January 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover
National Health Insurance, minimal poverty, a non- belligerent foreign policy, computers in most homes in the 1970's, no cable TV or CD's, racial harmony, Ronald Reagan and The GOP the leaders on abortion and gay rights, all these and more surpises await in the gripping, progressive "what if" novel, DISTURBANCE OF FATE.

WHAT IF Robert Kennedy is not killed after the California primary. Mitchell Freedman weaves an exciting and bold tale of a timeline without a President Nixon, wihtout 30,000 more Americans killed in Vietnam, without dependence on foreign oil, and with a much more humane FBI and CIA.

From Fidel Catro campaigning for president of Cuba, to Jesse jackson running for Vp as a Republican, Freedman takes actual kernels of truths and develops a farflung alternate reality.

Painting Robert Kennedy realistically and often as the moderate slowing down the forces of progress, Freedman effectively demonstrates that the course taken in the world and our lives these last four decades could have been quite different.

The two central issues in the Kennedy timeline are worker's rights and foreign policy. Using the power of the federal government to expand racially integrated unions in the South and throughout the country, Kennedy embarks on a new civil rights movement. A movement which makes workers more affluent and in a trickle up economy substantially eradicates poverty.

One recalls the Nafta Debate between Ross Perot and Al Gore, which seems like the last time globalization in the name of multinational corporations was debated. What now is ingrained in our daily lives through Chinese imports, dollar stores and Nike sneakers stitched together by a 10 year old for a penny a day was at one time debated in this country.
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