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    Review RETURN ENGAGEMENT by Harry Turtledove


    Del Rey, August 2004

    Without a formal declaration of war, the South has invaded the northern states, their blitz-krieg driving from Kentucky through Ohio, threatening to cut the larger nation in half. Years of disarmament, appeasement, and confidence that final victory had been achieved all conspire to weaken the U.S., especially when traditional U.S. enemies, Japan, England, France, and Russia become involved in the war with only Germany and Austria-Hungary serving as allies.

    Author Harry Turtledove (see more reviews of novels by Turtledove) paints the story as a montage--told from the point of view of national leaders like Jake Featherston, the Hitler-like President of the Confederate States, and from the viewpoints of ordinary citizens--a waiter in Georgia, a terrorist bomber in occupied Canada, an enlisted sailer in the U.S. Navy, a Sonoma farmer, and many others. Most of the characters return from earlier volumes in this extended series--or are relatives of earlier point-of-view characters.

    In RETURN ENGAGEMENT, this technique works. The war (inspired by World War II in our reality) provides a focus and framework to the story. Because of this, everything hangs together--from the military operations, to the political, to the development of concentration camps and mass genocide in the south.

    It's easy for Americans to believe that they are somehow better people. Our victories and our success in staying together as a nation during our civil war tend to make us complacent. Harry Turtledove's immagining posits a different America--one where a slightly different set of circumstances (Lee's orders were never discovered by the Union and the South therefore won the Civil War) led to dramatically different results. As Turtledove instructively demonstrates, cruelty and evil are not limited to Germans or far-off terrorists but created by circumstances.

    RETURN ENGAGEMENT is powerful stuff--and among the best of Turtledove's recent works.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 9/13/04

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