THE MAN WITH THE IRON HEART
by Harry Turtledove
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In The Man with the Iron Heart, Harry Turtledove postulates a very successful German resistance movement following the Nazi surrender during World War II. In this world, rather than dying from an assassin's bullet in 1942, Reinhard Heydrich survived to build up a vibrant and widespread movement to attack the American, English, French, and Russian occupying forces.
Turtledove has clearly modeled his post-surrender Germany of the 1940s on the post-invasion Iraq of the 2000s. However, the situation is different and the analogy ultimately fails. In both cases, the situation revolved around a president with historically low popularity ratings. However, Truman was coming out of a war which had near universal support after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the Germans declared war on the US. Bush led an invasion that many questioned from the start. Unfortunately, unless the reader can accept Turtledove's analogy, the novel continually raises questions in a way which interrupts any suspension of disbelief.
Heydrich's resistance manages, in just a few short years, to adopt almost all the tricks terrorists have come up with in the more than sixty years since World War II ended. In addition, Heydrich's Werewolves seem to have underground warrens that would drive Robert Hogan green with envy. Although the Werewolves also have a tremendous amount of luck on their side, they also have the very realistic and historic antagonisms between the four occupying powers working in their favor.
Individuals are able to see the benefit of working together, most notably United States CIC agent Lou Weissberg and Soviet NKVD man Vladimir Bokov. Both, however, are unofficially dissuaded from pursuing their cooperative idea as detrimental to either their health of careers. This attitude, of the war being over, and therefore the US and Soviets being enemies, was historical, and in place even before the Germans were defeated. However, with the German resistance active and operating in all four sectors of occupied Germany, it is questionable that all cooperation would have shut down as completely and quickly as Turtledove depicts.
Not all the action takes place on the European front. The death of her son in post-surrender Germany galvanizes Indiana housewife Diana McGraw to launch an anti-occupation movement in the US much more successfully than Cindy Sheehan was ever able to. Turtledove shows the growth of the movement through McGraw's eyes, as well as those of reporters and McGraw's congressman, although those who oppose her movement are generally written off as either being in thrall to authority or lone nutjobs who try to disrupt the protests.
Turtledove's characters come to life well, each with their own agendas, but none of them so devoted to their goals that they appear as two-dimensional. Even the fanatics of Heydrich's movement are allowed to have intelligent thoughts. They can plan for both the short term and the long term and have very definite opinions of their enemies based on facts rather than merely propaganda.
Turtledove's novel is pertinent to today's conflict, however his analogy doesn't work. While it may cause some readers who agree and disagree with the current administration's policies to think about how they would respond if the parties in power and opposition were reversed, the imperfect analogy undermines the book as a work of fiction.
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