It’s 1962. The Allies lost World War II. Slavery is legal. The United States has been divided by its conquerors, with the Japanese ruling the West, and the Germans in the East, with a small No Man’s Land in the Rocky Mountains. The Nazis have exterminated Africans, drained the Mediterranean to make space for farmland, and developed and used the hydrogen bomb. Not content to only take over the world, they’ve started colonizing space.
Meanwhile, there’s a book. It’s not banned, but it’s pretty clear the Germans and the Japanese governments aren’t happy to see people reading it. That book details an alternate history where the Allies won World War II.
Are you still with me?
The majority of The Man in the High Castle is spent following a mostly unconnected group of people. There’s a woman travelling with a stranger. A man who sells American antiques (think bottle caps and baseball cards) to the Japanese. There’s a businessman, a mysterious Swede and a Jew trying to hide his identity. I was interested-ish in these people, but more interested in the world Philip Dick created.
Because while I appreciated the author’s subtleness, I still really wanted to know more about this world. Tell me more about the Nazis! Tell me everything about how we lost the war. Write an encyclopedia about this alternate history! Who caresssssssssss about the guy selling fake antiques???
But that’s the point of the book. It’s not about explosive fights, or heroic last stands. It’s not even about history. It’s about a group of people who survive and adapt to this new world because what else are they going to do?
I really wish I liked The Man in the High Castle more. It’s a short but dense book I had to force myself to keep reading. I wasn’t invested in any of the characters, and I wished we could hear from the perspectives of some people on the periphery (Seriously, we don’t get to know what black people are feeling about that whole forced to be slaves again thing?!).
But there’s still a lot to appreciate in this book. I get why it has stuck around. In this strange new world, nothing is as it seems. Characters are unwilling to say if objects are faked or not. The threat of nuclear war is only hinted at. Genocides are only relayed to us anecdotally. And reality itself can’t be trusted. It’s an ambitious jumble of a novel, and even though I didn’t love it, I still think you should read it. After that, maybe we can all give the Amazon show a try.