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Six Degrees: From Rodham to In Order To Live

This month’s Six Degrees begins with a book I’ve not read and have no plans to read since I don’t much care for novels about people who are still alive. Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld is a fictional re-working of the life of Hilary Rodham and explores what might have happened if she hadn’t married Bill Clinton.

I’m sticking in the realm of alternative history for my first link.


In Dominion C.J Sansom imagined a scenario where, having failed to defeat the Nazi regime, Great Britain becomes one of Germany’s subject territories.  The book caused controversy when it was published in 2012 because of its unflattering portrayal of certain historical figures. Marie Stopes for example was depicted as a contributor to a programme for eugenic sterilisation and the newspaper tycoon Beaverbrook was shown as as a megalomaniac Prime Minister. No-one challenged the portrayal of the British Fascist leader Oswald Mosely.


Mosely makes an appearance in another alternate history novel, A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar, a rather odd book which blends pulp-noir with Holocaust fiction. Tidhar imagines that Hitler’s rise to power is thwarted and Germany has become a communist state. One of his main characters is a private detective who is trying to track down members of the Nazi party hiding in London. While in the city he rubs shoulders with Oswald Mosley and the Mitford sisters.


The curious blend of fact and fiction reminded me of The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden, a novel that actually is neither about kings or Scotland. It’s written as the fictional memoir of a Scottish doctor called Nicholas Garriganin who becomes physician and political aide to the Ugandan President Idi Amin. The doctor character is based very loosely on Bob Astles, a white former British soldier who became one of Amin’s closest advisers.


King of Scotland is one of the many titles Amin gave himself. Two adventurers with similar ambitions for royal honours form the basis of Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King. After years during which they embarked on multiple schemes the pair decide that “India is not big enough for them”. They hatch a plan to go to Kafiristan, a remote part of Afghanistan, and set themselves up as kings.


Afghanistan is the location for Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. It’s his account of a campaign to build schools for girls in gratitude to the remote community that rescued him when he became lost on a climbing expedition. According to the book, Mortenson faced many challenges in his quest to raise funds to build more than 55 schools in Taliban territory.  Many parts of his account were later challenged in CBS programme and allegations made of financial irregularities in handling donations.


Questions of authenticity also surround a memoir I read this year as part of the 20books of summer project.

In Order to Live by Yeonmi Park is an extraordinary account of a young girl who risked everything to escape the poverty and tyranny of North Korea. She made it to China only to find she’d been duped into a human trafficking operation but two years later took another daring leap to reach South Korea.

Questions have since been raised about gaps and inconsistencies in her story. There are indeed some parts of the narrative which I think she skirts over but there is no doubt about the trauma she suffered in those years: just take a look at the speech she gave at the One Young World 2014 Summit.

And with that we reach the end of this month’s Six Degrees chain. We’ve done a lot of travelling this month; from USA to England, Uganda, Afghanistan and North Korea. I hadn’t planned it this way but each book in the chain seems to have an element of “what if” element, whether it’s asking whether Greg Mortenson would have remained a drifter if he hadn’t taken the wrong route on his descent from K2 or whether Yeonmi Park would still be alive if she hadn’t walked across the river to China.

If you’re interested in taking part in Six Degrees yourself, take a look at the information provided by our host Kate of Books are my Favourite and Best

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