Sunday, November 30, 2008

Making History: Stephen Fry

I read this book when I was in the 11th standard. That’s a long time ago. I must have reread it at least 20 times since then and almost know the dialogues by rote.

This book is very immensely significant to me. I read it at a time when I was unsure of what I wanted to do in life, still am though. Yet I have never been so influenced by the protagonist of a book. I am a huge fan of Fry and this book takes the cake without a doubt.

This book is difficult reading, even for someone who has been reading a long time. The writer’s use of British inside jokes, reference to classic American movies and actors, use of phrases rarely heard in India, use of German and Latin words, its backdrop of history, plus the tendency to waver and a lot of soliloquizing contributes to the abstruseness.

But once you make an effort, it is like biting into a banana and finding strawberry juice inside.

The book revolves around a history graduate pursuing his PhD. Contrary to the two categories of stereotyped historians, he belongs to a third imaginary category, the PhDude, history surfing, screaming out juvenile cusses all around type. The protagonist, named Michael Young aka Pup, is the one of the most hilarious creations for me ever.

Then there is Leo Zuckermann, the theoretical physicist, who is pretending to live a Jew life while he was in actuality, born the son of a Nazi storm doctor. Jane, Pup’s girlfriend, who ditches him twice, without understanding or even making the effort to know what he is doing.

There’s the devil Adolf Hitler himself, also called Dolfi. Rudolf Gloder, the fictional and even more terrible and intelligent Nazi who would have come to power in case Dolfi was never born; he, who would conquer Russia and Britain and create a world dominated by Germany, America, Japan and Italy.

Then there’s Steve Burns, Michael’s gay interest, although he doesn’t really know him in the real world, but meets him in the alternate reality.

Enough, you wouldn’t understand a thing. The book deals with Mikey and Leo’s attempt to recreate a world rid of Hitler by going back in time and sterilizing his father using new age male pills :)
The attempt backfires, as Mikey wakes up in America and finds himself in a world ruled by Gloder and a place where black rights or free speech is never heard of. He sets out to find Leo, who is working on the same kind of experiment even in this alternate reality and they, with the assistance of Steve, make sure that Adolf Hitler lived so that the world would be a better place.

The author’s use of movie scripts style in the middle pages, fluent, fruity and biting British humor, the excellent chemistry, be it between Jane and Pup, Pup and Leo, Pup and Steve is endearing.

The book puts across a controversial theory that people are genetically programmed to behave in a certain manner, and it is not the upbringing or the surrounding that matters. Somehow, its discards the notions of fate or destiny, or even free will. Leo’s father, a concentration camp doctor in Hitler’s world, creates a sterilizing water in Gloder’s world (this of course originates from the Hitler family well, in which Leo and Pup had mixed in the male pill originally :) ) which is used to eliminate all Jews in Europe.

Why am I so much in love with this book? Apart from the fact that it has been compared to classics like Catch 22, it introduced me to history. It introduced me to British humor. It introduced to me movies, books I had never heard of.
I have changed over the period of time, and now I find a certain resemblance between Pup and myself and if a book can do so many things, it truly is amazing.

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