My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Ok, so I read this because I wanted to watch the Amazon series, but also always want to read the source material first. I became so enamoured with the idea of the book, that I actually went to Waterstones Piccadilly after a job interview, with the sole intention of buying this book.
The book is set in an alternate universe where Germany and Japan won the Second World War. The United State of America has split into three sections – the Pacific States, controlled by Japan, the Reich Controlled Eastern States, and the neutral buffer zone of the Rocky Mountains in the middle. The Soviets have been obliterated, and a cold war is breaking out between the Germans and the Japanese.
I really like the world – this is a book which makes you think about the impact that wars have on society and real people, after the fighting and military action has supposedly come to an end. The world doesn’t end at the United States – what is going on all over the world (and on other worlds) is explored, and I enjoyed the politics of the novel.
The book is a mishmash of several characters – Frank Frink, a Jewish jewellery maker in the Japanese region of the US, his ex-wife, Juliana Frink, living in the buffer zone with an Italian fascist with a secret agenda. Nobusuke Tagomi, the ranking Trade Mission lead in Japanese San Francisco, who meets with Mr Baynes, a Swedish industrialist, in San Francisco. Robert Childan, owner of American Artistic Handicrafts, who sells Frank Frink’s jewellery to the Japanese.
So here’s the rub: the ideas are brilliant, but the characters are forgettable and the story just doesn’t click enough for me. The book follows these characters who don’t really do anything, and are strenuously connected. I expected the novel to end with them all meeting (in particular, Frank Frink and his ex-wife), but the character development just isn’t there for me. I didn’t become invested in these characters; I didn’t have to read on because I wanted to find out more.
There’s no meaningful ending to this novel, no real pay-off. The concept is there but the plot and characters aren’t – they are simply a means to showing off this world a little.
I’ll be really interested to see where the TV series takes this novel (I’ve heard it’s a little different) but this is a book that just didn’t have the wow factor I expected.
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