The Man in the High Castle Summary
We like to keep our brief plot outlines super-brief, but this is a weird book with lots of plots. Even though the story takes place in 1962(ish), we're tempted to start off with the assassination of FDR in 1933. But that's all background, so check "Setting" for more on that (including the fact that Canada has become a safe haven for comedians, which seems very… accurate to us).
There are three main plots told from seven points-of-view, so this can get confusing. And on top of that, they all intertwine eventually. Oy vey. So let's get our graph paper to help you keep track of this. Buckle yourself in for a weird ride.
Here are brief summaries of each plot, along with the main characters for each:
The spy plot
- Baynes: a Germany spy who is traveling under cover to pass info to a Japanese spy.
- Tedeki: the Japanese spy (and semi-retired military man).
- Tagomi: a Japanese trade official in San Francisco, who thinks that Baynes is there to talk about business.
- Hugo Reiss: a German diplomat in San Francisco.
- Bruno Kreuz vom Meere: the commander of the German secret police in San Francisco.
Baynes comes to San Francisco to pass secret German plans about an attack on Japan to Tedeki. Baynes pretends to be a businessman, with business plans for business with Tagomi. Tagomi is all, "great, I love plastic injection molds," but Baynes wants to wait for Tedeki, who is late.
So Baynes waits and worries. Tagomi waits and consults theI Ching(see "Symbols"). Meanwhile, Kreuz vom Meere and Hugo Reiss want to find and stop Baynes. (Actually, "Reiss" just wants to read his book. But it's not like he can say no to the secret police, right?) Eventually, Baynes screws up and tries to make contact with other spies, which gives Kreuz vom Meere a chance to arrest him.
So, when Tedeki finally shows up and Baynes passes the plans, a bunch of German secret police show up to arrest-kidnap him. And they would've gotten away with it too, if it weren't for Tagomi's antique pistol skills.
Conclusion: Baynes and Tedeki are successful, but Tagomi is super-bummed over killing some guys. That's enough for one book, but it's only 1/3 of the book.
The arts and crafts plot
- Frank Frink: secretly a Jew (which is dangerous when the Nazis win) and an excellent craftsman of fake antiques and jewelry.
- Ed McCarthy: Frank's friend, a foreman with ideas for a jewelry business.
- Wyndam-Matson: Frank's ex-boss who runs a factory that makes fake antiques.
- Childan: a dealer in American antiques (who doesn't know how many fakes there are) and also kind of a racist against the Japanese (who are his best clients).
- Paul and Betty Kasoura: a young Japanese couple with excellent taste in American culture.
After Frank Frink gets fired from Wyndam-Matson's factory, his friend Ed McCarthy convinces him to start up a new business making authentic contemporary jewelry—as opposed to the fake antiques they used to make.
To start the business, they blackmail Wyndam-Matson by going to Childan (in disguise) and pointing out that some of his antiques are fakes—and they should know since they came from W-M's factory. This works for Frank and Ed for now, since they get the blackmail money.
This plan isn't so great because W-M is rich and powerful. He asks some of his police friends to look into Frank Frink, which could be bad because of that whole "secretly Jewish" thing.
Frank and Ed's plan also freaks out Childan, whose entire business is selling American antiques to rich Japanese officials. (For instance, Tagomi is one of his clients. So that antique gun he used in the first plot—that probably wasn't really an antique!)
At his store, Childan meets Paul and Betty Kasoura and they decide to get dinner together. The dinner doesn't go well because, well, Childan is kind of a racist and a loudmouth. But he's also got the hots for Betty.
Midpoint checkup: Frank and Ed are making jewelry; Wyndam-Matson has police looking into Frank; Childan is worried about his "antiques" and interested in Betty.
Ed tries to sell some jewelry to Childan, who takes it on commission, which is terrible for Ed and Frank. In fact, their business goes so poorly that Frank wants to quit. But first he gets arrested by the police. And since he's a Jew, they're going to send him to German territory to
get killed. (Thanks, Wyndam-Matson for alerting the police about this guy.)
Meanwhile, Childan tries to seduce Betty with some of this weird jewelry that Ed and Frank made. But Paul tells Childan that this jewelry is something special and new—and also profitable, if he doesn't mind turning it into something cheap and silly.
So, instead of seducing Betty, Childan has to make a choice: make lots of money by exploiting this American jewelry, or give this work the respect it deserves as authentic American art.
For at least once in his life, Childan makes the decision to respect the art. Later, he offers this artwork to Tagomi when Tagomi is super-bummed' about killing the Germans in the first plot. OMG, it's all coming together.
Tagomi takes this art and goes to study it. And then something extra-weird happens: he somehow shifts his mind into our world. That world is very scary to him, but he soon makes it back to his own world, the one where everything is OK (except for the Nazis winning).
Then, after his weird experience, Tagomi decides to let Frank Frink go free rather than sending him to Nazi territory to be killed. So Frank goes back to his job with Ed and Tagomi has a heart attack. And that's the last we see of him—did he die? Does he get to keep his job? We don't know.
Conclusion: Ed and Frank go on making jewelry; Paul and Betty probably go on being awesome; Childan stops being a complete jerkstore; Tagomi has a heart attack.
That's like a dreamy, artistic film, but it'sstillonly 1/3 (!) of this book.
The spy and art plot
- Juliana Frink: Frank's ex-wife, who now teaches Judo in the Rocky Mountain States.
- Joe Cinnadella: a Nazi assassin who fakes being an Italian truck driver.
- Hawthorne Abendsen: an author who wrote a book about what the world would be like if the Nazis lost, titled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.
- Caroline Abendsen: Hawthorne's wife.
Juliana Frink isn't so happy with her life in Nowhere, Colorado (actually, Canon City). So when young Italian truck drive Joe Cinnadella comes through, they start hanging out—or whatever the kids are calling it these days.
In addition to sex, Joe's interests also include this book about what the world would be like if the Nazis lost, calledThe Grasshopper Lies Heavy . The book is banned in Nazi territory but a best-seller everywhere else, which is good news for the author, Hawthorne Abendsen. Juliana starts reading it and likes it a lot. (Weird connection: it's the same book that Hugo Reiss is reading in plot #1.)
Since the author lives in Wyoming, Juliana and Joe decide to go on a road trip. First they stop off in Denver for some big city shopping, but Joe starts acting really weird and jerky. Like, he tells her to obey him or he'll kill her. So Juliana figures out that "Joe" is actually a Nazi assassin, sent to kill Hawthorne Abendsen. She finally puts those judo moves to work and kills Joe.
And then she continues the road trip. By the time she reaches the Abendsen house, she suspects that Hawthorne used theI Chingto compose this book. Hawthorne doesn't want to say, but Caroline confesses for him—and yes, he totally used theI Ching .
Which leads Juliana to ask theI Chingwhy it helped write that book. And theI Chingsays "because that version of history has some inner truth to it." What the what? Hawthorne and Caroline aren't too happy with this, but Juliana seems OK and just wanders off into the night.
And that's how the last 1/3 of the novel ends.
There are lots of connections between those three plots. For instance, Tagomi (in plot #1), Frank Frink (in plot #2), and Abendsen (in plot #3) all use theI Chingto help with decisions.
For another example, Childan (plot #2) sells Tagomi an antique in order to impress Baynes (plot #1). And there's more, often little connections. Like, check out "wool": Juliana and Tagomi both use the phrase "wool-gathering" (3.11, 5.92); Baynes's code uses "wool" (10.45); Kreuz vom Meere (11.3), Juliana (13.90), and Hawthorne Abendsen (15.66) all wear "wool"; and Frank uses "wool" in jewelry making (14.258). Is that just a weird coincidence or does it mean something? Ow, our head hurts.
If you find your mind exploding over all these connections, you should know that that's totally normal with a Philip K. Dick book.