So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

I started reading The Man in the High Castle after watching the Amazon series of the same name. While all the main characters are present in both, I was drawn to reading the novel when I found the ending of the online series unrewarding. The book is well worth reading even if you have seen the Amazon series. However, the I Ching (or, The Book of Changes), which plays a minor role in the movie, plays a much more significantly part in the book. I counted eight separate times the oracle is consulted and the results described to the reader. In fact the very first sentence of the Acknowledgments tells readers what version of the I Ching is used and quoted in the novel.
The novel is an alternate history set in the early 1960s in which the United States and its Allies lose World War II, and the east coast of the United States is run by Nazi Germany while the West Coast is run by Imperial Japan. Besides the I Ching, the other main plot device is a popular but banned novel written by Hawthorne Abendsen, the titular man in the high castle, which is called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. The title of this book within a book is taken from Ecclesiastes 12:5. This inner book is also an alternative history, only here the Nazis and Japanese lose World War II and the details are different from the readers' real world history of events.
Readers are left with a view of reality where no one knows what is real, and people use 50 yarrow stalks and an ancient Chinese oracle to make sense of things. While I found the ending of the novel much more satisfying than that of the online series, those unfamiliar with the I Ching or uncomfortable with questioning reality may find the novel unrewarding.

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