Harry Turtledove, |
In the Presence of Mine Enemies
(New American Library, 2003)
A young woman recently joined my family for a holiday meal. Having indulged, perhaps, in a few too many of the holiday spirits, she made a startling announcement. "I hate Jews," she proudly declared. She explained that she had been raised with that belief and she saw nothing wrong with it now. From her family's Nazi affiliations to the general feelings of dislike, her upbringing had taught her that hate was not just politics, but a way of life.
During World War II, the Nazi Party was quashed, hopefully never to be heard from again. While pockets of "Aryans" still can be found, apparently closer to home than you might expect, rarely is any credit given to such beliefs. But what if the war had gone differently? How enduring is human nature's ability to hate?
In his recent novel, Harry Turtledove attempts to create for his reader a world in which people of a religion are so abhorred that they can be killed for committing no crime other than that of their faith. In this alternate present there is no one to question whether this practice is ethical -- in fact, most assume there is no problem because all the Jews have been exterminated already.
But they have not. Forced to hide in plain sight, a small group remains right in the heart of the enemy, Berlin. Several families and a few single men and women struggle to keep their religion alive and pass it on to the next generations. Though not able to celebrate holidays or keep religious materials in their homes, these very different individuals find their own ways of keeping to an ancient way of life.
Truly frightening and yet horribly believable, Turtledove's story is a masterpiece of nightmarish possibilities. As we follow the characters -- some more likeable than others -- through their daily lives, we begin to see that a society in which some are considered more deserving of life than others is not as far from reality as we might like to believe.
While reading the novel it becomes more difficult to be complacent, and one must wonder what is being done now, in our own time, to stop this imagined world from becoming a reality. What are we doing to ensure the safety of all races? On whose side would you be if this world did not exist only as an author's musing on a moral question? And what would you do if you suddenly found that you were the endangered race?
Although the writing flows quickly, making this an easy read, the proposed ethical questions will linger long after you've set the book down. Perhaps it will even inspire you to examine your own life and appreciate it just a little more.