Coun­ter­fac­tual con­fla­gra­tion for boys

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts & Entertainment -

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 Nazil e d E u r o p e a n Com­mu­nity was es­tab­lished.

T hi s p l a us i - b l e s c e n a r i o w o r k s w e l l 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.”

T h e y a l s o b e t r a y e d t h e is­land’s Jews. And in Guy Sav­ille’s al­ter­nate world, Jews are still mur­dered i n 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


Guy Sav­ille — plau­si­ble may­hem

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