The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
I first read this when I was in my teens and it's been over 40 years since that time and this is the first time I've reread it. I've encountered a few critiques that have tried to explain it all and though I might seldom agree to all the assessments I have no intention of disputing them. I'm more inclined to do a review and perhaps tell a bit about what I liked.
I don't seem to have a clear recollection of the story from way back when; except the ending has been one thing that did stick in my mind.
The book is about an alternate reality where Japan and Germany won World War II. It is at least four stories that intersect and converge and diverge throughout the narrative. There is a fifth story that is more like a spin-off as the connection is mostly in the past while there might be a bit of synchronicity to what happens with that character in relationship to the rest: it is really a separate story.
The other stories are destined to converge.
There are several more characters; but I feel safe with four converging stories. One thing I found outstanding in this work is the meticulous detail to character development.
The first story is of Robert Childan who owns a well known shop that sells American antiquities to wealthy Japanese who have taken over rule of Eastern USA. He is soon to find that he may have some forgeries and this will dramatically change his life.
Nobusuke Tagomi is a customer of Robert's and is a minor functionary in the governmental structure; but his interaction with Mr. Baynes of Sweden, who is really Rudolf Wegener of Reich Naval Counter-intelligence: and Mr. Yatabi, who is really General Tedeki a former Imperial Cheif of Staff will begin his descent into a nightmare world.
The Baynes story-line seems important enough to mention as its own; but it mostly intersects with the Tagomi story. The rest is quite interesting character development.
Then we have Frank Frink who is really Frank Fink, a Jew, hiding out and working for a manufacturer who makes counterfeit antiquities, some of which have ended up in Robert Childan's hands. Frank has just lost his job even though the boss considers him one of the best at making the forgeries. Frank has an attitude problem that has one too many times put him at odds with his employer.
The seemingly side story is Franks ex-wife, Juliana, who has long ago left Frank and now seems to lead a somewhat pointless life, as a judo instructor. She takes up with Joe, an Italian truck driver who decides to divert himself long enough to seduce her. It all seems to be fun and games and he introduces her to the novel 'The Grasshopper Lies Heavy by Hawthorne Abensen' it’s a novel that is banned in most places. because it's about an alternate reality where Japan and Germany lost the war. Since Italy was allied with Germany it seems odd that Joe has this book; but there are more things than that making Juliana uncomfortable with Joe.
The Grasshopper Lies Heavy figures prominently throughout the book and even serves as a frame story in several places where the characters read extensive sections.
Frank is convinced by a fellow worker, Ed, to start his own business selling authentic jewelry with Ed, but his friends methods for getting things started will put them in danger and eventually lead to Frank's arrest; where the authorities determine he's a Jew. The business will be called Edfrank Custom Jewelers. (What's most significant throughout the story beyond this is the close examination of all the characters fears and prejudices. Frank finds himself displaying his own prejudice about the blacks when the news that the German Euthanize African blacks, reaches the media; but he quickly recognizes his own hypocrisy.) Their subterfuge leads to Robert Childan's discovery of the forgeries: in their attempt to send a message to their former employer who then pays them off; so they won't sour any more of his market, and that money is used to start the business.
Those events set off a roller-coaster ride of emotion for Robert Childan that manages to re-ignite his own prejudices against the Japanese. There seems to be a large discourse from him about how they don't ever come up with original thoughts and designs but are very good at copying things.(Ironic since Childan and his supplier are the ones operating with counterfeits.) Later Childan takes some of the Edfrank Jewelry on consignment, though he doesn't hold much hope for it. Reaction to the jewelry seems mixed at first; but it ultimately results in something positive for Robert, leading to his own strange awakening.
The reader gets large chunks of The Grasshoper Lies Heavy read to him by numerous characters. Surprisingly almost everyone has a copy despite it being banned. Ironically the first large chunk read is from Reiss, the Reich's Consul to the Japanese territory. It is midst the confusion of the death of the present German leader and Reiss's own ruminations about which of the worst choices will take his place that he attempts to read passages from the banned book; until he becomes disgusted and puts it down thinking that its only a book written by a fiction writer who must be quite gifted at writing. He recalls at that moment that one candidate to replace the leadership is Doctor Goebells; who also was once an author of fiction. The scene then moves to where they are receiving a copy of a speech being given(written) by Goebells(possibly about his taking power); which made this reader wonder if the implication was that Reiss would soon be reading another distasteful bit of fiction.
Tagomi touches twice on the events regarding Frank and Robert; once because he has purchased some items from Childan, one being a Colt Army revolver and later he will acquire a piece of EdFrank jewelry. His complications in life bring him to a crisis that leads to him experiencing some event related to the jewelry that places him momentarily in an alternate reality where Japan lost the war. This strange experience manages to center him; though things do not look well for him, Japan, and the mysterious Mr. Baynes.
During all of this we occasionally shift aside to the story of Joe and Juliana as they embark on a journey that will eventually lead to the Man in the High Castle, so that Juliana might ask the author of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy some questions about the book. Juliana proves to be a stronger character than Joe's narrow view allows him to see; and this will be to his detriment.
As is usual for Philip K. Dick, he embarks on a story that is an alternate future containing another story with an alternate future; which leaves the reader wondering what is reality.
I recently read ‘The world of Science Fiction by Lester Del Rey’. It's a book that goes from the beginning of science fiction magazines and short stories(1926) up until 1976 and mentions many of the major novels. This timeline contains the time that The Man in the High Castle was published. The author mentions Philip K. Dick as an important figure and this book, The Man in the High Castle is often considered Mr. Dick's finest work. Yet somehow ‘The world of Science Fiction by Lester Del Rey’ contains no reference to The Man in the High Castle.
Perhaps it would be presumptuous to conclude that the author excluded it because he felt it was more literary fiction than science fiction. It certainly strikes me that way; but in the same token as I read Mr. Del Rey's work I have to wonder, when examining his own words, just why this book was excluded even with that thin excuse.
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