Review: The Africa Reich

Counterfactual conflagration for boys

By Rob Minshull, August 30, 2011
Guy Saville - plausible mayhem

Guy Saville - plausible mayhem

By Guy Saville
Hodder, £6.99

What is it with the Nazis? Don't they know when they're beaten? First, there was a series of books, like The Odessa File and The Boys from Brazil, which told us that the Nazis never really went away. Then there was a disturbing trend towards the "what if they'd won" scenario: Len Deighton's SS-GB and Fatherland by Robert Harris remain unsurpassed in this group.

These books tend not to be written by Jewish authors. Perhaps we are so busy being grateful that the Nazis actually lost in 1945 that we just don't have the emotional energy to write books pretending they'd won.

But Guy Saville does; his debut novel, The Afrika Reich, has a story-line that is more unrelenting violence than gripping intrigue, but the alternate history is well researched and conceived.

The novel is set in 1952 and the world is a recognisable but remarkably different place. However, the British Expeditionary Force was wiped out at Dunkirk, the will to fight on was lost, Churchill resigned and was succeeded by Lord Halifax, who eventually signed a peace treaty with Hitler. The Soviets were later defeated, the Americans remained neutral and a Nazi-led European Community was established.

This plausible scenario works well because Saville has changed the outcome of a pivotal event - Dunkirk - and then allowed his narrative to follow the logical consequences. It also succeeds because it bears more than a passing resemblance to the reality of what happened to that part of Britain which actually was occupied by the Germans: the Channel Islands.

As Madeleine Bunting argued in her superb book, The Model Occupation, the "islanders compromised, collaborated and fraternised just as people did throughout occupied Europe."

They also betrayed the island's Jews. And in Guy Saville's alternate world, Jews are still murdered in their millions, with the survivors shipped off to Madagascar. The rest of Africa has been divvied up: Britain keeps most of its colonies, as do neutral Portugal and Spain; Vichy France maintains a rump state in Algeria; Italy gets Libya as well as Abyssinia and Somalia; South Africa is neutral; and Germany is left with huge swathes of the continent - all linked by the Pan African Autobahn.

It is, of course, a German empire built on misery and murder. The black Africans have been either worked to death or relocated to the Sahara and a fate unknown but heavily hinted at. The SS Governor of Deutsch Kongo, Walter Hochburg, exemplifies Nazi rule in Africa: his barracks courtyard is paved with the skulls of thousands upon thousands of dead Africans. Hochburg is, however, the target of a British mercenary, Burton Cole, and all hell lets loose when two men confront each other - and their past.

The action is pure Boy's Own, the plot somewhat rambling but Saville's alternative world is so carefully crafted that it is all too believable.

Rob Minshull is a writer and broadcaster

Last updated: 11:10am, August 30 2011