Friday, October 25, 2013

What Do You Think of This?

This book is two years old, but I only heard of it today.  La reine Astrid n'est pas morte à Küssnacht ("Queen Astrid Did Not Die At Küssnacht") is a novel of alternate history authored by Belgian aristocrat and politician, Stéphane de Lobkowicz.  As the title indicates, the point of departure is that the iconic fourth Queen of the Belgians survives the fatal car accident on August 29, 1935.  Rather than losing her life, she loses her husband, King Leopold III. Playing on the rumor that Astrid was pregnant at the time of the crash, the author even imagines that she bears Leopold a posthumous fourth child. Otherwise, Astrid disappears into the background of the story.  

The foreground is taken by her mother-in-law, cultured, energetic Queen Elisabeth, who becomes Regent for the little heir to the throne, Prince Baudouin.  It falls to the German-born Elisabeth to face off against Hitler.  The Belgian campaign lasts for 22 days instead of the historical 18.  The beautiful city of Bruges is burned to the ground. Elisabeth barely escapes with her life to England and continues the struggle from abroad, while a defiant Belgium is placed under the ruthless rule of Reinhard Heydrich, engineer of the Holocaust.  (In reality, Belgium benefited from having Alexander von Falkenhausen, a military governor who made efforts to moderate the treatment of the population).  In the post-war period, Belgium is spared the Royal Question, which erupts in the Netherlands instead! Queen Wilhelmina is blamed for her departure to London, rather than King Leopold being traduced for remaining in Belgium during the occupation.

Lobkowicz also manages to weave in characters such as Leopold's brother, Prince Charles, who actually served as Regent of Belgium from 1944-1950, Leopold's second wife, Lilian Baels, and Baudouin's Queen Fabiola.  Charles is given a romantic interlude with a Congolese woman of mixed racial ancestry, whom he later marries.  Lilian never marries Leopold, of course, but becomes his children's governess.  In reality, she never served in this role, despite persistent myths and rumors to the contrary.   While a refugee in Spain, sheltered with Fabiola's family, Baudouin meets his future bride, two years his senior. 

While I am not particularly attracted to reading this book, and something about the whole tone of the story even strikes me as unpleasant, La reine Astrid n'est pas morte à Kussnacht is certainly inventive. It is always interesting to consider alternate historical scenarios, so please feel free to suggest any others in the comments. 

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