Author Guy Saville Imagines 'Afrika Reich' Where the Nazis Won

Germany Starts by Divvying Up Continent With Beaten Britain

The Reich Stuff: Guy Saville’s speculative novel offers readers an abundance of espionage and double-dealing.
Ant Jones
The Reich Stuff: Guy Saville’s speculative novel offers readers an abundance of espionage and double-dealing.

By Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Published February 12, 2013, issue of February 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

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.

Saville’s tale is noteworthy not merely for transferring the nightmare of a victorious Nazi Reich to an exotic location, but for shifting our attention to new features of Nazi criminality. What is particularly striking about the novel is the insignificance of the Jewish question. Saville alludes in passing to the fact that millions of Jews have been deported to the island of Madagascar by the early 1950s.

But the main victims in the novel are black Africans. Under Hochburg’s rule, millions have been put to work as slave laborers for German industries — Volkswagen AG, for example — and many end up being deported to the Sahara desert as part of Heinrich Himmler’s program of “ethnic reallocation and consolidation.”

In focusing on African victimization at the hands of the Nazis, the plot of “The Afrika Reich” dovetails with recent academic scholarship on the Holocaust, some of which has sought to de-center the Final Solution of the Jewish Question from the Third Reich’s larger genocidal crimes. This has been visible in the work of such Holocaust historians as Donald Bloxham and Timothy Snyder, who have stressed the Nazis’ (unrealized) plans to murder tens of millions of Eastern European Slavs during WWII.

It has also shaped the work of German historian Jürgen Zimmerer, who has tried to connect the Holocaust to Imperial Germany’s colonial genocide against the Heroes of German Southwest Africa during the uprising of 1904–07. Like these academic studies, which have tried to understand the Holocaust more from within the context of modern genocide than from that of modern anti-Semitism, “The Afrika Reich” subtly universalizes Nazism’s significance.

This normalizing tendency is also visible in the novel’s use of the Third Reich to offer a political critique on contemporary events. Saville clearly casts the victorious Nazis as irredeemably evil, but he does so less to condemn the Third Reich than to criticize Great Britain’s collaboration with it in an effort to preserve its empire. In likening Great Britain to Nazi Germany, Saville’s novel offers a critical commentary on British foreign policy since 9/11. In a recent interview, the writer expressed his desire to challenge British myths about WWII — especially the idea of “the good Allies versus the evil Nazis” — because of how they “set the context for conflicts ever since, including the invasion of Iraq.”

Many readers, to be sure, will probably ignore this political subtext and simply enjoy “The Afrika Reich” as an imaginative and entertaining journey through a nightmarish world that never was. By the time they reach its dramatic conclusion, they will suspect (correctly) that a sequel is in the offing. Saville has said that its subject — the fate of the Jews in Nazi-ruled Madagascar — will be a “metaphor for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” If so, the novel promises to spark controversy as the victims missing from “The Afrika Reich” take center stage in its follow-up.

Gavriel Rosenfeld is professor of history at Fairfield University and is the author of “The World Hitler Never Made: Alternate History and the Memory of Nazism”(Cambridge University Press, 2005).


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.