IN THE PRESENCE OF
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In the Presence of Mine Enemies is an expansion of Harry Turtledove’s short story of the same name. Unlike many stories which are expanded to novel length, however, this tale of Jews living in the heart of a Nazi Empire, does not feel padded and adds quite a bit to the original story.
The book begins much the same way the story does, with Heinrich Gimpel, his wife, Lise, and several friends, informing their ten-year-old daughter that they are Jews, living in Berlin more than fifty years after the Nazis believed they had exterminated the Jews. Unlike the short story, Turtledove is able to examine many of the themes this revelation hints at, not least of which is Alicia Gimpel coming to terms with the fact that she is a member of a minority she has already been taught to despise.
As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that the enclave of Jews will be exposed. However, Turtledove does an excellent job of building the suspense as to how the betrayal will come about. With not only the Gimpels at danger, the accusation can come across any of their friends, the Stutzmans, who are involved in computer fraud, the Kleins, whose son is diagnoses with Tay-Sachs disease, or outspoken professor Susanna Weiss. In fact, when the accusation does eventually come and some of the characters find themselves in the clutches of the Gestapo, it seems almost anticlimactic.
The novel suffers from some of Turtledove’s recurring faults, most notably his insistence of repeating comments about his characters’ traits, necessary, perhaps, in a multi-volume series such as the Worldwar novels, but more redundant than required in a stand alone novel. Similarly, while the Gimpels and Dorsches do play a lot of bridge with each other, Turtledove provides a little too much detail about their games except for a bridge aficionado. Finally, Turtledove makes an historical figure the Führer of the Germanic Empire and slightly alters his name in the novel. Had the alteration been to an actual German name, the change may not have been as jarring, but as is, it causes the reader to pause whenever it appears.
Turtledove has many themes running throughout the novel, not least of which is the question of when to trust the government. Nevertheless, In the Presence of Mine Enemies is not an anti-government screed, but more in line with a questioning of facts and trying to determine the truth through personal examination. Implicit in much of the book is the question of identity. The Jews of Berlin are both Jewish and Germans, but do not see themselves as traitors to their country despite the Germanic Empire’s teachings. They are helped in this, perhaps, by the cultural revolution following the third Führer’s death, which is appears to be based on the fall of the Soviety Union, with Führer Heinz Buckliger playing the role of Mikhail Gorbachev and Gauleiter Rolf Stolle filling in for Boris Yeltsin. Despite the familiarity of the situation, Turtledove gives it a life of its own.As with Turtledove’s other stand-alone novels, In the Presence of Mine Enemies, is reasonably concise and comes to a satisfactory conclusion even as it raises questions about what will happen next. Turtledove’s Germanic Empire, and the people who live in it, exist beyond the bounds of the novel’s pages, providing food for thought to the reader.
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