In 2002, a friend returning from a trip abroad asked me if I wanted anything from the country he was visiting — a magazine or something, he said.
I told him I had nothing in mind but if it was convenient for him, a book would do. At that time, I had just started to pick up reading as a hobby. He told me he knew nothing about books but he would grab one anyway.
I guess he was just returning a favour for having been bugging me with long distance calls asking about the political development back home whenever he was abroad.
My friend was not a politician but he loved to talk about politics. Sometimes he would call just to say he had read something about Malaysia in some newspapers he came across while criss-crossing the globe. As usual he would ask for my opinion about the things he had just read because “reporters would know a lot more of inside stories” than what was being reported. I was at that time a reporter.
Coming back to that particular trip in 2002, he returned home a couple of days later, invited me for a coffee and handed me five books, one of them was Fatherland by Robert Harris. “These are bargain books,” he chuckled, “that’s why I can afford to buy five.”
I thanked him for his kindness. Of course, the subject about books was soon forgotten as the conversation shifted to politics. Vintage him.
It took me several months to read all five. Fatherland was unusually compelling that it left a lasting impression on me until this day.
Last week, I rummaged into the heap of paper boxes containing my personal library and found the book buried deep below. I am now re-reading it — to once again experience the stomach-churning tales that Harris had weaved into the pages of the book, which counts the late Nelson Mandela as among the readers.
The book, by the way, has been adapted into a film of the same title, with the tagline, “What if Hitler had won the war?”