The Man in the High Castle depicts a world where the Axis powers (Japan, Germany and Italy) were triumphant in World War II and have taken over most of the world. It’s the 1960s and America is split into three parts – the Japanese Pacific States (the west coast), the Neutral Zone (Rocky Mountains area) and the Greater Nazi Reich (the east coast). Hitler is alive but incapacitated from advanced syphilis (interesting) and Bormann is Chancellor with Goebbels, Hydrich, Goring, etc. vying to soon take his place.
In this version of history Roosevelt was assassinated in 1933, leading to the continuation of the Great Depression and US isolation. The American military was therefore insufficient to stop the Japanese and in 1947 the US and the remaining allies surrendered.
The world is extremely technologically advanced for the 1960s as a result of twenty years of un-halted German engineering. Hoever, there has also been a continuation of the Holocaust after Germany take over Russia, Poland and Eastern Europe. The Mediterranean has been drained to make a huge agricultural area and the entire population of Africa has been killed and most of the Soviet Union in a continuation of the Final Solution. The Nazis and Japan are in a Cold War type situation. The hydrogen bomb has been developed and used and the world is sending spaceships to colonise Mars.
So just a little bit different.
The story follows a group of characters based in San Francisco and it is a story within a story. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a popular sci-fi novel in this imagined world, and it tells a story in which America and the Allies won the war. The book is successful and the Nazis want the author killed. Got all that?
On top of that, it turns out the I Ching, a Chinese book that tells the future or the truth, kind of like and oracle, actually wrote Grasshopper so does that mean that Japan and Germany really lost? Is it possible that reality could have changed in some way?
Yeah I was confused too.
I think the themes of this book are about history and how it is written by the victors. In this version Churchill is a war criminal. It asks other questions about history. For example, the characters collect, sell, forge historical memorabilia. The novel asks if we believe a lighter was in Roosevelt’s pocket when he was assassinated does it becomes more valuable to a collector despite being just another lighter. It also makes the point that all history is relative – you can’t rely on any single account.
It explores the possibility that there is no single reality, there is a multiverse rather than a universe that is at odds with the generally accepted view of our one linear history. None of the characters in the novel are able to perceive it although Nobusuke Tagomir finds himself momentarily in another San Fransisco in which Japan was defeated by the Allies.
It’s interesting and intriguing (not to mention really confusing) because even the alternative history in Grasshopper, which is meant to be an alternative history to the story in the novel, is different from our own known history. It is completely different to our real-life version.
I have to admit, I was confused when I finished the book. I didn’t fully understand the ending but I think that’s at least some of the ideas that you are meant to take away from it. I don’t read a lot of stuff like this which is probably why it seemed confusing but I still enjoyed it.