- Series: Turtledove, Harry
- Hardcover: 464 pages
- Publisher: NAL Hardcover; First Edition edition (November 4, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0451529022
- ISBN-13: 978-0451529022
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 57 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,519,326 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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In the Presence of Mine Enemies (Turtledove, Harry) Hardcover – November 4, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Despite its intriguing alternative premise, Turtledove's lengthy tale of Berlin's Jews hiding in the open long after the Nazis defeated all their WWII enemies plods along in a series of vignettes told from the viewpoints of six different Jewish characters passing as "good Germans": Wehrmacht analyst Heinrich Gimpel, his wife, Lise, and their precocious 10-year-old daughter, Alicia; medieval English scholar Susanna Weiss; and physician's receptionist Esther Stutzman and her husband, Walther, whose computer expertise has helped many Berlin Jews shed their "unclean" ancestry. But as the Gimpels and their friends struggle to keep their secret culture alive, all around them chinks are appearing in the very foundations of the Reich, starting with the death of Hitler's second successor and the selection of a progressive new Fuhrer. Tepid characterizations, clumsy plot devices, interminable bridge sessions between the Gimpels and their Aryan friends, even some dialogue seemingly better suited to a drawling John Wayne than a Wehrmacht panzer commander (who defies the SS with "you're going to be mighty sorry"), all dilute the author's message of hope for these downtrodden remnants of the Chosen People. Closing on a curiously inconclusive note-or is it a lead-in to an equally ponderous sequel?-this account of an unlikely political thaw dribbles off into a puddle of cliches, sentiment and unconvincing coincidence.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Another magisterial alternate-history novel from the master of the form features a modest, middle-class family in near-future Berlin: Heinrich Gimpel; his wife, Lise; and their daughters Alicia, Francesca, and Roxane. He is a middle-level, civilian bureaucrat at army headquarters, and the only wrong note to contemporary this-world ears is that Heinrich's Berlin is the capital of a world-spanning Third Reich. The Gimpels, however, are covert Jews. From this dissonance, Turtledove builds a complete symphony expressing how the Third Reich's remaining Jews hide in plain sight, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Heinrich's disguise nearly shatters when a coworker's impeccably Aryan wife tries to escape her troubled marriage by seducing him. Fortunately, the authorities soon not only lack evidence of his Jewishness but also have other fish to fry, one of them the new fuhrer, Heinz Buckliger, who remarkably resembles Mikhail Gorbachev. The countermeasures that the SS and the party hacks take against Buckliger resemble the efforts to overthrow the aforesaid Gorbachev, but even when one grasps the resemblance, the suspense of the confrontation of good and evil remains intense in Turtledove's hands. So does the impact of his handling of more cerebral matters such as the devolution of dictatorships and the survival of Jews and Jewish identity. Roland Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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The book itself is about life in a 21st Century in which the Third Reich won not only World War II, conquering all of Europe, including England and Russia, but also won World War III, conquering and effectively destroying as a world power the United States. Its difficult to determine what the point-of-departure for Turtledove's story is, but it seems that, in this world, the United States never entered World War II (presumably there was no attack on Pearl Harbor) and effectively sat out the war long enough for the Germans to win in both the East and the West. But the book isn't about world politics in a Nazi dominated world, its about what it would be like to be a Jew living in the heart of the Third Reich 60 years after the conquest of Europe.
Of course, these are not Jews who are living openly as such. They live in secret, pretend to be perfect Aryans, and, in an effort to keep their religion alive, share their secret with their children when they reach 10 years old. Turtledove tries to show us what it would be like to try to live in a society that had as one of its central principles the beleif that you are an enemy that must be destroyed.
The story principally unfolds as the story of the family of Heinrich and Lise Gimpel and their three children, one of whom turns ten as the book opens and thus learns her true identity as a Jew. As she struggles with this new knowledge, we learn, in bits and pieces, what is happening in the rest of the world. And, when the reigning Furher, named quite ineptly, after a certain former head of state in Europe, dies, we begin to see the beginnings of what looks like it could be reform in the Third Reich and a new birth of freedom.
In some ways, this book suffers from some of the same weaknesses as Turtledove's other books. There is far too much repetition of plot elements and character traits -- we don't need to know more than once, for example, about the pediatrician who can't operate a coffee maker, or how Heinrich's co-worker has the hots for the cute blond secretary. The most annoying parts of the book for me, though, came in the long, drawn-out bridge-playing scenes between the Gimpels and Heinrich's co-worker and his wife. They did very little to advance the plot and, quite honestly, mean nothing to me because I know next to nothing about bridge. Its obvious Harry is a bridge player, or has at least researched the topic well, but he shouldn't have assumed that his readers would have the same familiarity with the subject. More than once, the plot slows down needlessly because of this.
As the book unfolds though, the excitement builds. There is a threat to the Gimpel family that looks like it could bring their whole world crashing down. And there is a political sub-plot that is part Tiananmen Square, part the fall of Communism circa 1989, and part Gorbachev-Yeltsin. In the end, there are significant changes in the Third Reich but still not resolution for its remaining Jewish citizens who must continue passing there secret along, hoping for the day when they can live openly again.
While I wouldn't count this among Turtledove's better books, it was still an enjoyable read and painted enough of a picture of a 21st Century dominated by Nazi Germany to make me glad that this particular version of history never came to pass
As such, I don't know a more relevant story for our time. A book worth buying, reading, re-reading and reading to your children.
The problem is that the first 4/5 of the novel is highly repetitive and unimaginative. I was intrigued by the premise and all the possibilities it might offer, but the author focuses on a minute idea and pounds the reader over the head with the same themes so that it ultimately feels as if he never explores the real meat of the idea. At times, you literally feel as if you're reading the same scenes you had 50 pages before.
Even when things get moving near the end, our characters are mere passive observers who fail to take an active role in the action with one exception. However, this moment is glossed over so quickly, that it might as well never have happened.
If you don't mind passive characters, predictable plot points, deus ex machina, and bridge, this novel may hold your interest for the duration. If not, you could probably skip it.