Munich

Munich Book Cover Munich
Robert Harris
Random House Canada
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This story follows two friends, alumni of Oxford: Hugh Legat (now one of Chamberlain’s personal secretaries) and Paul Hartmann (a German diplomat).  They find themselves on opposing sides of battle lines being drawn, yet they have more in common than even they seem to know. Still, trying to arrange a meeting is difficult enough in Nazi Germany, especially at a time when Hitler is raring to storm into Czechoslovakia. And it is the fate of that country which hangs in the balance when Chamberlain’s offer to travel to Munich to negotiate terms for the country’s division is accepted by Hitler. Mussolini and the French Prime Minister Deladier are also to be in attendance.

 

While it is easy to find Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement efforts laughable in hindsight, it is also easy to forget just how popular Chamberlain’s promotion of peace was—at least before Hitler moved into Poland. And this was so not just in England, and throughout continental Europe, but even in Nazi Germany.  Crowds flock to greet Chamberlain and his entourage as they land in Munich, and seem to follow him as he moves through the city. We can easily dismiss the prime minister as naive or cowardly, but in this book I found him—for the first time—sympathetic.

Trying to arrange a meeting is difficult enough in Nazi Germany, especially at a time when Hitler is raring to storm into Czechoslovakia.

Perhaps the most striking of Robert Harris’s many strengths as a writer is his ability to take a moment in history directly preceding a crisis and to allow the reader’s knowledge of what is imminent to paint the story. He’s done it before with his novel Pompeii, set on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius towards the end of the year 79 c.e. In both books the truly impressive feat of Harris’s is his ability to deliver a balanced, subtle narrative: overwrought chase-scenes and showdowns are avoided in favour of pointed questions in interviews and a shadowy feeling of foreboding.

 

I loved this book. Harris is much too skilled a novelist to succumb to waxing anachronistic. His characters inhabit their moment of history properly. The reader is left to make sense of what each action implies. This is never at the expense of the story: the tides of optimism for Chamberlain’s peace efforts are arrayed against the belligerence of the Nazi leader. The reader is allowed to glimpse the good and the terrible of 1938.

Rupert McNally
Rupert is a fan of fabulation in the fiction he reads. He mostly reads classics, but also enjoys science-fiction, and a good adventure story. On the non-fiction side he enjoys books on politics, language, and English history.