The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle is a novel from Philip K. Dick. It has been turned into a stellar television series on Amazon Prime. There are currently two seasons available for viewing (as of April 2018).

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This is a dystopian alternate history set in “America” 1962. It posits that the Axis forces won WWII and that the continent is now divided between the Japanese Pacific State (western side of continent) and the Great Reich (the rest of the continent) with a slim band of neutral zone between the two territories.

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This is such an imaginative show. I have often wondered what would have happened if history had gone the other way. I love that there is a show exploring this (and incredibly thankful it is only on TV)!

The Man in the High Castle is Amazon’s most streamed show. So that must mean lots more people than just me enjoy it ūüôā

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The main part of the story follows two characters: a woman from the Pacific States (Juliana) who gets pulled into the Resistance, and Joe, a man from the Reich with questionable allegiances.

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It is startling to see some of the most iconic images from the free world turned into Nazi symbols. The American flag, Times Square …

The Man in the High Castle is a drama. It does have some humourous parts and the violence is manageable, but the material can be heavy at times.

One of my favourite quotes:

You’re about to die horribly but your hair is fine.

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I started watching this series on a whim the other night because I was bored and the weather was bad. Well, ice and freezing rain pretty well had me stuck inside all weekend and I binged on both seasons. This show is completely addictive. It has a tendency towards cliff-hanger endings Рboth for individual episodes and seasons Рso you will constantly find yourself clicking on just one more episode.

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There is an element of mysticism or other-worldliness to this show which greatly surprised me. The storyline takes on more meaning towards the end of the second season and starts to become more clear why they included it, but I still think I would have preferred the show without it.

What strikes me most about¬†The Man in the High Castle is how complicated each character is. They all have multiple levels. I approached the show thinking that the Nazis would be the antagonists and the Resistance would be the protagonists, but it is much more complicated than that. Even the Nazis who do terrible things are softened in the show by their love for the families. And the “freedom fighters” come across much more strongly as terrorists.

Everything is not as it seems. No one is all good or all evil. We are just different shades of grey.

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The Zookeeper’s Wife (Diane Ackerman)

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When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombers devastated Warsaw‚ÄĒand the city’s zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski began smuggling Jews into empty cages. Another dozen “guests” hid inside the Zabinskis’ villa, emerging after dark for dinner, socializing, and, during rare moments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active in the Polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives in the animal hospital.

Meanwhile, Antonina kept her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and its animal inhabitants‚ÄĒotters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxes.With her exuberant prose and exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, Diane Ackerman engages us viscerally in the lives of the zoo animals, their keepers, and their hidden visitors. She shows us how Antonina refused to give in to the penetrating fear of discovery, keeping alive an atmosphere of play and innocence even as Europe crumbled around her.

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The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman is one of those books I’ve been hearing about for a few years, without knowing much about, other than it was set in World War II. It is actually a non-fiction book, that tells the story of a husband and wife in Nazi-occupied Poland and their efforts in the Polish underground. Together, they saved scores of Poles from Nazi SS squads, and participated in organized groups to undermine and sabotage Nazi operations in Poland.

I found the information in this book to flow well between factual and narrative, although at times the author did seem to briefly fall down a rabbit hole of information linked to Рbut not directly regarding Рthe Zabinski family or their efforts.

Growing up in Canada, I mostly learned about WWII in relation to the Western Front, the causes, the homefront, and conflicts between Japan and the USA. We spent very little time on lessons about the Eastern Front except as a lead-in to the Cold War and relations with Russia post WWII.¬†So learning about the underground Polish Resistance was fascinating, particularly because one of my close friends is from Poland. There were multiple times throughout the books where I listened to Antonina¬†Zabinski’s story and thought of my friend’s grandparents, who likely shared those experiences.

I listened to the audiobook version of this story. It took me longer to get into than most of my other recent books, but eventually I did fall into the rhythm of the story and listened with avid fascination, and at equal turns horror.

The narrator moves between the narrator’s normal European accent and heavy Polish, Russian, and German accents depending on who is speaking in the narrative. While this did help me to distinguish between individuals during conversations, it was at times jarring as well.

The Zookeeper’s Wife was turned into a blockbuster film in 2016. I’m not sure if it is one I will be able to watch. Although the focus of the story is not set on animals being hurt or killed during the war, it does happen, and that is something I usually cannot tolerate in media. For now, I will stick with what I have learned from the book.

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