THE SEVERED WING
by Martin J. Gidron
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The outcome of World War II is one of the most popular turning points for alternate history. Despite the cover of Martin J. Gidron's The Severed Wing, with a large swastika and eagle prominently featured, World War II does not occur in his alternative twentieth century, nevertheless, that war and the Holocaust are ominously present on every page of the novel. Instead, Theodore Roosevelt's third term led to an earlier American entrance into World War I and different terms offered at Versailles. National Socialism never became an important movement in Germany, but rampant anti-Semitism did arise in a different guise.
Gidron follows the travels of Janusz Spiegelmann, a Polish expatriate living first in British mandated Palestine, then in New York, and finally, as the novel begins and ends, in Salonika, Greece. A freelance journalist, Janusz provides a glimpse into a world which is not as developed as our own, either politically, culturally, or technologically. In many ways, it is Janusz's role to discover the way this world is set up as much as the reader must. When the novel opens, we're presented with him as a stringer for a Yiddish newspaper whose girlfriend, Irena, must return to Greece for her father's funeral. Janusz is unable to go with her because he is in the United States illegally.
It would appear that Irena is Janusz's tie to his world's reality, for practically as soon as she departs from Idlewild, his world begins to disintegrate. People begin to disappear and the rules of the world slowly begin to change. Disappearances are not simply caused by shadowy government agencies, although that is Janusz's first consideration, but an actual erasure of their very existence, with only Janusz aware of the disappeared. Furthermore, incidents are changing. Janusz's memory of a speech by Vice President Sarandon is quickly set apart from consensual reality when an assassination alters the course of events.
Although Gidron does not delve into the manner of mechanism which causes Janusz's slippage from his reality, the focus of the novel is more an exploration of the ways history can be different. In Gidron's world, the Holocaust may not have happened, making the world a better place for those killed in it, but the overall civilization which results is different and, perhaps, not as enlightened as the society which would eventually result from the Holocaust.
The Severed Wing is a depressing, almost (but not quite) dystopic novel. Although Gidron makes use of irony in the form of parallels between his world and our own (as noted above with Vice President Sarandon), these are not humorous, but merely a wink in the direction of the reader to show that there are still ties between his world and our own. Where Gidron is most successful is developing a twentieth century history which has neither a Hitler or a Hitler-analog, but which has different leaders who are as ruthless in their own way as a Hitler or Stalin.
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