What if…? That is a question that we may have asked ourselves more than once… “How would my life have changed if I had won the lottery?” “What if I hadn’t had an argument with my friends?” Books which focus their stories on these “fictional” or “parallel” worlds are part of a genre called “Alternate History”, or “Uchronias”. Most of these books are unknown in Europe, as they are mostly written by American authors.
Well, that’s in fact the plot of this book: The Confederate States have withdrawn from the Union, after they won the American Civil War. Now, it’s 1881, and tensions are growing. US President Blaine develops hard policies against the Confederates, while CS President Longstreet negotiates with Mexico the purchase of Sonora and Chihuahua (which would lead the Confederacy to have a Pacific coastline). Indians from both countries are raiding each other, and so begins this book: telling us the causes, consequences and development of the Second Civil War from many different points of view, historical characters who don’t exactly have the role they had in our timeline: ex-president (and hated) Abraham Lincoln being a Socialist and trapped in the middle of Salt Lake City during a Mormon revolt, Mark Twain writing on his newspaper the chronicles of the English bombardment of San Francisco, many generals like US General Custer or CS General JEB Stuart, or even Teddy Roosevelt, who has volunteered along with many neighbours in Montana, and has enlisted in the Army.
The book doesn’t, however, tell us the story of each character, but the global timeline, which we can feel advancing at each point. From the beginning, the US are seen as “the bad boys”, without any friends (except for Germany, of course: even Alfred von Schlieffen is observing the war), as aggressors without a casus belli (they just want to prevent the CS from buying the Mexican territories). At the end, the truce is inevitable to the United States, which has lost in all fronts. It’s also about many different topics: racism, slavery in the Confederacy, Socialism and the US, and European influence in American politics.
If you don’t like this kind of story because the American Civil War is somehow not interesting in Spain, there are many books that I can recommend you: Fatherland, by Robert Harris, or In the presence of mine enemies, by Harry Turtledove, the author of How Few Remain, both about a Nazi victory in World War II; or Roma Eterna, by Robert Silverberg, about a world where Rome was never defeated. Or, even closer, En el día de hoy, by Jesús Torbado, about a Spanish Civil War won by the Republic.
The thing is that Alternate History has many possibilities. And we haven’t exploited all of them, of course.