“The Man in the High Castle” by Philip K. Dick
(First publication: 1962 / This edition: Penguin Modern Classics 2001
Taken during a coffee break at Siwilai Cafe
Am I racially kin to this man? [He] wondered. So closely so that for all intents and purposes it is the same? Then it is in me, too, the psychotic streak. A psychotic world we live on. The madmen are in power. How long have we known this? Faced this? […] Perhaps if you know you are insane then you are not insane. Or you are becoming sane, finally.
I received this book from my boyfriend the third time we met, along with Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Name of the Wind”. (Kudos; way to my ❤ ) He had already told me a bit about this book before that day—said that it’s written by one of the most well-known sci-fi authors. This was the first time I’d heard of Philip K. Dick, actually.
When he gave me the two books, he told me that he loved “The Name of the Wind” and that he couldn’t get through “The Man in the High Castle” because the way of writing was difficult to get through.
So… upon hearing that (and not being much of a sci-fi fan), I put “The Man in the High Castle” aside. (…and kind of forgot about it.)
I dove right into “The Name of the Wind” and enjoyed it well enough.
A month ago when we were in Edinburgh, we were having dinner and wine at our friends’ house. One of the topics that came up was about the series “The Man in the High Castle”. They were discussing about how interesting the story is—how it portrays a world where Japan and Germany actually won the war and how they split the United States into two parts.
I was like, “WHAT? That sounds so interesting! Never heard of this.”
My boyfriend was just like, “I gave you the book!”
Me: “….What?? When? …OH THAT ONE?”
I decided to pick it up after I finished Nicole Krauss’ “The History of Love”, feeling a bit uncertain. I mean, if a guy who loves sci-fi says that he didn’t like this one and couldn’t get through it… there wasn’t much hope for me.
Plot twist. I ended up enjoying “The Man in the High Castle” so much. I couldn’t put it down. I’d read and read and read and whenever I was on the commute to/from work, I actually found myself wishing I could stay on the train a bit longer just so I could read some more. My boyfriend was actually all “???” when I said I enjoyed this one more than “The Name of the Wind” (which he considers one of his favorites, ha ha).
I found it so intriguing—not so much about the storyline but mostly about how he portrayed the Japanese, the Germans, the Italians, and the Americans. Though it was this alternate-dystopian-world tone (which I usually dislike), the way the different nationalities were portrayed were still… for a lack of a better word, “relevant”? Their stereotypical behaviors, etiquette, mannerisms, and way of thinking still shone through—and that’s was what I found amusing and captivating.
Now… as for the storyline itself—how Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan have pretty much taken over the world and Africa is completely destroyed… to be honest, I couldn’t understand all of it fully. I felt like there were a few too many little stories in the one big umbrella story that didn’t seem to be relevant or related at all? And since it was like that, I felt it was unnecessary for it to keep jumping back and forth to the different stories throughout the book—I’d have preferred to read about ONE story first, and then move on to the next month (like a collection of short stories). It left me feeling confused and tired, because I kept hoping it would all tie together at the end somehow. It just felt like it all built up and led to… nothing.
Also, (a bit of a spoiler) the “man in the high castle” refers to this author of a book (in this book) that wrote about the “alternate world” where what would happen if the Axis powers had lost the war. (A little book-ception going on here) Every character in the story seems to be curious about this book—either agreeing with it or disagreeing with it, hyping it up or hating it. This definitely got (and kept) my attention, because I really believe in the power of books—and how it can have more impact on a person’s mind and thoughts than anything else. It made me think of this art installation I’ve seen floating on the internet:
Anyway, so at the end of the book, we get to meet this “man in the high castle”—the author of the banned and powerful book.
And that whole section, that I guess is supposedly the “climax” of the story”, was so… not climax-y. I had no idea what was going on, had no idea what the “big, enlightening moment” was supposed to be, and just… didn’t get it. It went by in a haze and it was a let down.
Don’t get me wrong—like I said, I enjoyed this book a lot. I enjoyed the idea of it and I enjoyed exploring all the characters’ (and different nationalities’) thoughts. It was just the storyline that I didn’t really enjoy too much. I feel like it’s kind of like when you see a trailer of a movie and it’s so good—but when you watch the actual movie, it was… alright. (Now that I think about it, for a lack of a better example right now at the top of my head, it’s like Suicide Squad. Interesting and captivating characters… but having them together and in that story, it was just not that… smooth.)
I’d probably have another go at it again, just to make sure I didn’t miss something. Maybe I’ll understand it better next time.
Would still recommend it though, if you like sci-fi and war-related stories.