Daily Archives: August 18, 2008

Reviewlets: Fateful Choices, Farthing, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union

A quick round-up of some holiday reading. As encapsulated in the subtitle, Ian Kershaw’s Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941 examines ten key decisions of World War II, such as Britain deciding to fight on in 1940, Hitler’s decision to attack the Soviet Union and Japan’s decision to attack the USA. It’s well written and thoroughly researched with copious footnotes, no [citations needed] here. Though world-changing, Kershaw deliberately doesn’t look at the “what if?” scenarios of different decisions being made; in almost every case the conclusion drawn is that even though some of the actions may have seemed to be based on little more than a whim, especially those involving Hitler, Mussolini or Stalin, they all had such a weight of events behind them that they were all but inevitable.

Many of Kershaw’s decisions have been used as points of divergence for alternative histories, such as Jo Walton’s Farthing that I downloaded as part of Tor.com’s freebie bonanza (since finished, I’m afraid). In Farthing, Britain made an “honourable peace” with Germany after the Battle of Britain, and the book is set in the resultant 1949. It starts off as a cosy country house murder-mystery, a la Christie et. al., with twin narrators: Lucy, daughter of members of the “Farthing set” (loosely based on our timeline’s Cliveden set) and the Scotland Yard Inspector sent to investigate the murder. As the Tor website didn’t give much information past book titles and authors for the free downloads, I knew nothing else and expected it to continue in this vein, but it turns much darker as it progresses, and I don’t think it spoils things too much to say that it doesn’t conclude with everybody gathered in the library for the murderer to be unmasked. The setting is very interesting, though I didn’t really engage with the characters, but I’d be interested to see what happens in the next two instalments.

Finishing off the alternative history theme, Michael Chabon’s Nebula-, Locus- and Hugo-winning The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Not too much else to add to all the awards, it took a little while to get going but once I got to grips with the language and setting I really enjoyed the hardboiled story.