One of my favorite genres is alternate history. I love the idea of taking historical events and pondering what would have happened if things had gone a little differently. There have been many books written on what would be different if the Confederacy had won the Civil War. Most of these focus on the issue of slavery.
In A Nation Interrupted, author Kevin McDonald works the same idea, only following through on the differences in the world due to the Confederacy winning their independence from the Union. He believes that the Confederacy becoming its own independent nation would mean neither nation would have been the strong world power the United States was in the 20th century. What does this mean for the second world war?
Economics forced the Confederacy to abandon slavery. I’m not quite sure I believe that would have happened quite as smoothly as it is portrayed in the book, but that’s not the main focus of the story. World War II is raging, and Hitler is looking to stop the flow of weapons from the United States (Union) to Great Britain as part of the lend-lease agreement. He sees invading the United States as a good alternative to fighting the Soviet Union and believes he stands a better chance against the weak West than turning his troops East.
The book follows the story of a number of people caught up in these events. One is a pilot from Texas (Confederacy) who resigns his commission in the Confederate Army Air Flyers to help Great Britain fight off invasion, only to be called back home once Germany gains a foothold in North America by occupying New York. In New York, a Jewish physics professor at Columbia was studying in Germany when he saw how things were going and returned home. Now he faces the same threats at home. The U.S. government goes to great lengths to extract him as his work with atomic energy could help them send the Germans back across the Atlantic.
The Germans occupying New York and other parts of the northeast goes about the same as their occupation of Europe did in our history. There is a resistance and people being hidden from the occupying authorities. The President of the Confederacy, Harry Truman, must work with the President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, as Truman knows Hitler won’t stop with just New York or just the United States. There are daring missions and a race against time to develop the bomb before Germany does in a last-ditch effort to force Germany’s surrender, even if that means exploding a bomb on its own citizens.
I honestly didn’t know how it was going to go once the race for the atomic bomb was on and there was talk how using it in New York might be the only solution. With alternate history, anything is possible. McDonald seems to have a good deal of historical knowledge and depicts New York and its citizens pretty accurately. My parents were growing up in New York and I heard stories all my life. The one thing he missed out on was the number of German people who lived there who were on Germany’s side in the war. However, he has the atmosphere of the city pre-invasion pretty accurate and there’s no reason to believe it couldn’t have gone the way he details. The only addition I would have made was more fear of fellow New Yorkers who could have been reporting activity to the Germans.
The characters aren’t incredibly deep. McDonald is more focused on the history and possibilities than building characters with depth, and that works fine. We care enough about a few people to follow their stories, but we don’t need a lot of depth to know what they will do. Where other authors drag through alternate history with depicting the same thing over and over again while waiting for action McDonald just cuts to the chase. It makes the story read very well from beginning to end.
I’m not sure I buy the idea that things would have gone the way they did before these events, particularly in the Confederacy. I think the idea that slavery would have ended and everything has been hunky-dory is wishful thinking. However, I think the idea that Hitler would have turned on the West rather than the Soviet Union had a good deal of merit. This was a very enjoyable read, particularly as someone who enjoys the genre and grew up in New York.
Categories: Book Reviews