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Book Review: Munich by Robert Harris

November 14, 2017

 

4.5*****

 

Robert Harris is one of my favorite authors of historical fiction, and he has another winner on his hands with Munich. It tells the story of two men, one German and one English, who play roles in the final meeting between Chamberlain and Hitler in 1938, when peace was still a possibility. The book is wonderfully written and researched and, as always with this author's books, I came away from it feeling I had learned something new. The characters are intriguing and the plot clever and well-paced. The only downside is that, of course, I knew all the while the outcome of the story. It is difficult to read about a meeting that could have changed history so monumentally, if Hitler had been a man with whom one could have reasoned. I don't know what could have been done to prevent Hitler and his madness at this stage, when he had the support of so many people behind him even though he made no secret of his intentions. There is a moment in the book when one of the characters is alone with Hitler just for a moment and the thought crosses his mind that he could kill him, but of course he doesn't in the end. He is afraid for himself and for the future, and in the end he doesn't act. I am never one to advocate violence, but I found myself wishing he would just do it, knowing my wishes would not be answered, that history cannot so easily be rewritten. It is chilling and horrible, and as a German, I find it really difficult to read about this time, though I do so often since it is so important to remember.
Reading Munich, I also could not help but think of our current political climate, not only in the US but around the world. The extremist right has been gaining ground in recent years (I think of Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, the AfD...) and polarization is rending societies apart. The alt-right feels justified in openly pronouncing their credo of hatred and divisiveness. At the same time, I have to remind myself that this has caused me to be more politically aware than ever before and has roused so many to be engaged and active to fight the aforementioned. I suppose where I am going with this is that we have to keep remembering and we have to keep reading telling stories like Munich, because disaster can be averted when people are brave and vigilant and willing to act. Initially, this review was meant to be a few complimentary lines, but I guess it provoked more in me than that. Munich isn't the best book about the Second World War or Hitler, but it is among the best I have read about the window of time just before the horror began. It serves as a powerful reminder that we need to be aware and willing to act when we see injustice on any scale about to happen.

 

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