A lot of people bring nice fluffy, quick reads on vacation, I usually bring a couple myself. Most of the time I bring at least one serious book on a trip. On my last trip to the Bahamas (from Boston), I brought along a great book. Munich, by Robert Harris, was so good that I actually finished it before I landed in Nassau! Harris is one of my favorite historical fiction writers, his writing style just sucks you in from the beginning.
Munich is about the infamous conference in September 1938, between Chamberlin and Hitler. You may remember seeing the famous photo of Neville Chamberlin waving around a piece of paper declaring it would mean “peace in our time” Didn’t quite work out that way.
The main characters are Hugh Legat, a British diplomat, and Paul von Hartmann, an official in the German Foreign Ministry. The story takes place over a period of four days, and it kept me on the edge of my (airplane) seat, the whole time. It is clear that Harris did extensive research on the inner workings of 10 Downing St. and the German Foreign Ministry. The descriptions are so vivid, and the conversations seemed so real. I felt like I was in the room listening to history being made.
As history tells us, appeasement was the worst policy the West could have used in dealing with Hitler. However, this story gave me a different perspective of what was really behind Chamberlin’s actions. It certainly made me see him as a real person, not just an infamous political leader.
Added to the real history, the story is overlaid with the issues and choices Legat and von Hartmann are forced to deal with. Secret diplomatic backchannels, shared and cheating lovers, and complex friendships add in layers of intrigue and suspense.
Both of these men want a way to stop Hitler, but are coming at the situation from very different angles. Hugh wants to avoid war for the British people, and Paul wants to stop the peace conference so Hitler will act, and his allies can get rid of Hitler all together.
Though the outcome of the Munich Conference is well known, I found myself forgetting that and reading nervously, concerned how it would all end for Hugh and Paul.
If you are a fan of historical fiction, or as fascinated with the pre-war years as I am, I highly recommend Munich. It is a gripping tale told with historical facts, intrigue, and intense emotion. Harris has written many novels, and in addition to Munich, I also recommend checking out Enigma and Fatherland.