Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"The Resurrections" by Simon Louvish

What if World War II had never happened? What if Rosa Luxemburg had not been executed in 1919, but had seized control of Germany in 1923 and formed a communist German Soviet Republic, forcing Hitler and his National Socialists to flee to Austria?

These changes in history allow for a lot of interesting speculation. Who knows where this new track through the twentieth century might have led? When I saw The Resurrections (on sale for two dollars!) it sounded like a promising premise; it was the application of it that I had a problem with.

This was a difficult book to read. At just over 200 pages, I should have blown through it, but that I definitely did not do. It was written in a sort of stream-of-consciousness style, with maybe a dozen narrators taking turns, but there was nothing to distinguish one from another beyond the label on the chapter. They did not have individual voices. Other than the varying points of view, it could have been the same person narrating the entire book.

Some of the alterations of history were hard to get a handle on. My only other experience with reading "alternate history" is with Harry Turtledove's World War II books. (Aliens attack! Former enemies ally against the invasion! It only makes sense that this would knock history askew.) That series may not be especially well written, but it makes for an interesting story. And, more importantly, there's a clear impetus behind the alteration in history. But with The Resurrections, the reason behind the changes was never explained to my satisfaction.

A few of the changes make sense. If WWII had never occurred, the eldest Kennedy son, Joe Jr, may well have survived to become a successful American politician. A lot of the differences revolve around the idea that many of the Axis "villains" lived well into the 1960s rather than dying at the end of the war: Mussolini, who went on to form an Italian empire; Hitler, who moved from Austria to the US and entered American politics; and Goebbels, who changed his surname to Gable and followed Hitler as a puppetmaster. 

But I found most of the other changes inexplicable. I'm not sure what was supposed to have happened to Stalin, but somehow Trotsky succeeded Lenin and died of natural causes in 1967; Chicago's Mayor Richard J. Daley died in a car wreck in 1956, 20 years before his actual death; King Edward VIII did not abdicate the throne for Wallis Simpson but instead continued to reign until his death, and had three daughters; Chairman Mao died "in a skirmish" in 1942, more than 30 years before his actual death. And Howard Hughes ruled Las Vegas. Most of these purposeless "facts" were just tossed into the book without being tied in at all.

Hitler's character in this book was regrettably undeveloped. He was an ex-Senator from Illinois (the book was written in 1994, so I don't think we're supposed to draw any interesting parallels to Obama) and doesn't come into the book much at all. Even worse, the book ends with Freddy Hitler (Adolf's American-born son, of course!) as President of the United States. Yeah, that's kind of a spoiler, but let's face it--you're never going to read this book.

I was disappointed that there were no actual resurrections in the book--just historical figures who lived a lot longer than they did in real life. I thought, based on the title, that surely somebody (and my money was on Mengele) was bringing villainous historical figures back to life in a diabolical plot to take over the world. Implausible? Sure, but at least maybe then I would have enjoyed the book. As it is, I'm just glad it's over so that I can read something good.

The author's purpose in writing the book wasn't completely worthless. It's made clear by the final narrator who says, "I wanted to show how fragile we all are, in history, blown this way and that in the wind. The only answer we have to all these storms and tumult is that we survive, somehow, with our critical faculties intact." I say, along with the narrator, "I'm sorry if it's not an earthshaking conclusion."

I may soon be won over to Chris's way of thinking: that if a book is this cheap it's for a reason. But I have found a few gems for really low prices, and I will probably keep looking for another.


Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I like the idea of this story, but it does look like a wicked tough read! I'm not usually a fan of stream of consciousness either, so I might have to pass this book up. I hate it when I have to do that.

Kathy said...

Naaah, don't feel so bad in passing up a book now and then--we'll never have time to read all of them, right? So we might as well stick with the best ones. And this is not one of the best. :)