The Afrika Reich
By Guy Saville
Henry Holt & Co., 400 pages, $28
Recently, fictional Nazis have been enjoying a resurgence in contemporary literature. As seen in high-brow novels such as Jonathan Littell’s “The Kindly Ones,” works of young adult fiction, such as John Boyne’s “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” and mass market books, such as Philip Kerr’s series of Bernie Gunther detective tales, the Third Reich continues to serve as a deep well of literary inspiration for writers of all kinds.
Within this body of literature, the subgenre known as alternate history also continues to be well represented. Following on the heels of Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America” and Michael Chabon’s “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” — both of which introduced counterfactual fiction to a more mainstream audience — British writer Guy Saville’s new novel, “The Afrika Reich,” promises to intrigue readers with an imaginative tale of what might have been.
Saville is the latest in a long line of diverse authors — including Noel Coward, Philip K. Dick, William Shirer, Robert Harris and Newt Gingrich — to explore the nightmare scenario of the Nazis winning World War II. He breaks with tradition, however, by abandoning the familiar premise of the Nazis invading England or the United States and shifting the story to Africa.
“The Afrika Reich” is crafted as a fast-paced political thriller. The year is 1952 and the Nazis have won World War II, thanks to Great Britain’s decision to forge a separate peace with Germany following Hitler’s capturing of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk in June 1940.
Among the key decisions that follow is Britain’s agreement at the Casablanca Conference of 1943 to divide up Africa with Germany, paving the way for “a decade of peace and prosperity” for both countries. Behind the scenes, however, trouble is brewing. A power struggle between the SS and the Wehrmacht in Africa threatens to unleash an old-style colonial war between Germany and Great Britain over the spoils of empire.
Against this backdrop, the novel pits its protagonist, a hard-bitten British war veteran named Burton Cole, against his nemesis, the fanatical SS governor general of the German Kongo, Walter Hochburg. As the two men’s fates become intertwined, “The Afrika Reich” offers readers an abundance of espionage, double-dealing, intrigue and scenes of Nazi sadism, all of which culminate in a not-to-be-divulged ending.