What is the Luftwaffe possessed the Japanese Zero fighters? From this intriguing premise comes the book Zero Over Berlin, a fairly standard adventure novel set in 1940 from author Joh Sasaki.
However, this novel’s premise is more interesting than the actual book but there are some entertaining nuggets to be found. Most notably, the perspective for World War II from the Axis side, particularly the Japanese. Frustrated by the Luftwaffe’s failure in the Battle of Britain, Hitler orders two Zero fighters to be flown to Berlin for mass production. Enter Lieutenant Ando and Sergeant Inui, two pilots in the Imperial Japanese Navy who get themselves into trouble in Shanghai while on leave. Grounded, they eagerly accept the mission to deliver the Zeros.
The novel really shines when it shows the Japanese home front circa 1940, particularly the fading nightclub scene. A singer named Yuki and Ando’s sister Mariko attend a club called Blue Max (like the medal or the novel/movie?) giving us a glimpse at a subculture not often covered in fictional accounts of wartime Japan. It is the twilight of an era, as the government ordered all such nightclubs shut down in 1940.
Unfortunately, much of the novel is filler. There are some characters that don’t really have much of a payoff and the first thirty-odd pages (labeled ‘Part One’) are essentially pointless. Do yourself a favor and start with ‘Part Two’. Added to that was the poor copyediting job, which made frequent mistakes; e.g. the pilots are set to depart on November 27th, 1940 but at one point there is a typo saying December 27th. I had to read the passage several times, thinking I missed something until I realized it was just a mistake. Along with that, some characters’ names are misspelled here and there.
Again, the most interesting thing is the perspective. Several historical German figures show up, such as Ernst Udet, Herman Goering, and Hitler himself. If anything, the British are portrayed more antagonistically, but this is logical since it is through the eyes of the Axis. Not that it is pro-Axis, mind you. In fact, Ando himself is critical of Japan’s occupation of China and the bombing of Chungking, so much that it earns him a punch from his commanding officer.
All in all, Zero Over Berlin is really only an interesting curiosity for hardcore World War II buffs who want a different perspective on the conflict. Average readers should best skip it.
If you are one of these hardcore World War II buffs, you can order Zero Over Berlin here.