At the Threshold of a Dream

AT THE THRESHOLD OF A DREAM is a historical novel nested inside a contemporary novel. Cate Johnson works as a counselor at the Manhattan Genetic Testing center in New York.  She stumbles across the scant remains of her own great-grandmother’s work with genetics in the 1920s.

When Heinrich Himmler took control of the Nazi’s human breeding program in 1927, he sent an emissary to Cornell University with instructions to study America’s widespread and successful eugenics programs—the laws, policies, research, and social structures that were propelling the United States ahead in the pursuit of a genetically advanced populace.  Undergrad student Rachel Worden, herself the product of three generations of controlled breeding at the Oneida Community in Upstate New York, was recruited to become the National Socialists’ Director of Eugenics Education in Munich.  Join Rachel as she crosses the Atlantic on the Graf Zeppelin to meet Heinrich Himmler.  Stroll the streets of Munich, see the sites, attend the rallies and the beerhall conventions.  Rub elbows with common Germans, listen to the propaganda, and see how Darwin and Ford led to Dachau, and on to Treblinka.  Follow the story of an American woman, an architect of the Master Race, as she helps lead the masses of Late Twenties Germany to the very threshold of a dream.

Cate realizes that, whether we admit it or not, our gene pool is still evolving, and she launches a mission to restore logic and sanity in an arena filled with fear, hatred and denial.

135,000 words

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1 thought on “At the Threshold of a Dream

  1. A note from the author….
    I feel it’s important to warn prospective readers that the story this novel revolves around is likely to leave permanent psychological marks, particularly for those readers raised in families headed by parents and grandparents who lived through the Second World War. For younger readers, the effect may be more akin to enlightenment, an understanding of why things now are the way they are. Whether injury or revelation, the after-effect of reading this novel will persist for years. If the expression “interfering with natural selection” is one you can live with, then read on.

    Mankind’s capacity for inhumane treatment of his fellows reached astounding proportions in the 1930s and 40s. The mechanized, organized barbarities of the Master Race have totally eclipsed our recognition of many advances made in the first decades of that century. This novel returns to the days between the War to End All Wars and it successor, to look at some of what’s been lost in the shadows of Auschwitz and Treblinka.

    The seeds of the Master Race were sown in the 19th century. The industrial revolution brought great changes to both industry and agriculture, fostered the growth of cities, and had profound effects on what common people expected from their lives and for their children’s futures. The idea that the next generation would live much as past generations had was banished, to be replaced by a near-universal expectation that the future will be better. For many decades, that expectation of improvement was generally fulfilled: drudgery slowly became less common, education became broader and more intensive, and the portion of resources spent meeting life’s necessities got smaller. At the same time, the scientific revolution was pressing forward on many fronts—the wonders of electricity literally lit up people’s lives and made instantaneous communication possible across the nation and even around the globe; microbiology and sanitation gave man a fighting chance against infectious diseases; and genetics, long the province of animal husbandry, was seen to hold promise for healthier generations to come. Freed from subsistence agriculture, made strong with schooling and scientific rigors, and fertile with unbounded aspirations, our minds were rich with possibilities. We had the technical skills, we had the social capabilities, and we had the means to cajole the mass of society to embark on a quest to remake ourselves as a species. In America, we also had sufficient hubris to dive in.

    Some critical distinctions must be made clear: genetics is a science, a body of knowledge gained by research and experimentation that yields quantifiable, repeatable results. Eugenics is a social construct, a plan to bring about genetic change through the application of social practices, particularly the increase of positive heritable traits in the population, and the suppression or elimination of undesirable traits. Genetics is science; eugenics is politics.

    American eugenics (and Nazi eugenics as well) used the guise of science and genetic progress as pretext for policies intended to achieve racial and political purposes, especially the control of minorities and immigrant populations, and other undesirables such as the poor and criminal classes. By the 1920s, American eugenicists were testifying to Congress and helping to craft immigration restrictions. Thirty U.S. states adopted compulsory sterilization laws. America was leading the way to a brave new world.

    Set back by her exhausting struggle and defeat in the Great War and the social and political chaos that followed, German eugenics lagged behind. Following the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, Hitler studied racial hygiene tracts while in prison, and became convinced that Germany could become strong again through eugenics. As a shrewd politician, he may also have viewed race as a key to binding together a new majority in the deeply divided German electorate. In the years after his release, help and guidance from the American eugenics movement was critical to the German eugenic effort. This novel follows the career of Rachel Worden, a product and student of eugenics, as she is enlisted to help the National Socialists build a German eugenics program.

    Wrapped around Rachel’s story is another, a contemporary story about Rachel’s great-granddaughter, Catherine Johnson. Cate struggles to understand what Rachel did in Germany, and to see beyond the long shadows of the death camps to a sane genetic future for mankind.

    All that being said, this is first and foremost a novel, an entertaining and engaging work of fiction populated by complex characters, each with passions, and weaknesses. It’s a family saga spanning five generations. It’s a journey through a lost era, sprinkled through with bits of popular culture. There’s intrigue. There’s romance. There’s sex. Politics. More sex….after all, it’s a story about making better babies… The maiden voyage of the Graf Zeppelin. And of course there’s some tragedy and heartbreak. My first proofreader phoned me at 1 AM, literally crying and imploring me to change a major plot twist because she was not yet ready to go in a different direction with the story.

    That’s about all I can tell you about this novel. I hope you enjoy reading it. If you feel compelled to call me at 1 AM, please leave a comment.

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