It’s 1962, but the world is very different from the 1962 in our history books. The country formerly known as the United States is now split between the Japanese Pacific States on the west, and the Great Nazi Reich on the east. What few Jews survive live under assumed names, and slavery is legal once again. This is because the Axis Powers defeated the Allied Powers in World War II, transforming Germany and Japan into the world’s superpowers.
The novel follows several characters whose lives intersect in different ways. But rather than having a central story line that concerns one or two main characters, Dick weaves the characters’ many story threads and a few reoccurring themes into an intricate tapestry that has something interesting to say about the nature of reality.
Author Philip K. Dick was a master of speculative fiction, and The Man in the High Castle is his most brilliant novel in my humble opinion. Dick invented not one, but two, alternate histories that illustrate just how arbitrary reality might be.
A few caveats: the history component of the novel is a bit dated and outlandish, but the author writing this book in the 1960s didn’t have all the information about WWII that we have today. Also, the author confuses Chinese and Japanese culture with regard to the I Ching; the book is much more popular in China than in Japan and typically is not used for divination in Japan as it is in this book.
But of course, that’s only true in our reality.