Review: In The Presence of Mine Enemies

In The Presence of Mine Enemies

Harry Turtledove’s In The Presence of Mine Enemies is an expansion of a previous short story that tells the tale of a secret Jew in an Axis victory world. There’s turmoil in the Reich, and Turtledove’s classic “obvious historical parallel” is to the late USSR with obvious “Gorbachev” and “Yeltsin” figures. This is a very frustrating novel, and it shows both Turtledove’s strengths and weaknesses at full blast.

The obvious strength comes from its set pieces. The story it was based on was widely acclaimed, and in particular the “August Coup” is very well done. It also has an interesting advantage in that it’s one of the Axis victory novels that is the least unintentionally glorifying of them (as described in this post). The only wunderwaffe are the ICBMs the Germans used off-camera to blast the Americans into submission after World War II, and it’s hard to imagine a less romantic setting than the last days of the USSR. Finally it has a sinister tone and unromantic in general. The reformists are still racist (ie we want elections, but only involving “proper Aryans”), and the “August Coup” is foiled not by any fluffy ideals, but by exposing the Jewish heritage of one of the conspirators.

That works. The rest of the novel does not.

It’s long, slow, and padded out with stuff like games of bridge repeated constantly. Much of the book is given over to a lame love triangle drama. While the parallelism is understandable, it can get a little too blatant at times. The good parts of this book are great, but the bad parts dramatically outnumber them. It’s an interesting discussion piece, but I wouldn’t really recommend it for pleasure reading.

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