The Afrika Reich

Written by Guy Saville
Review by Sarah Bower

Let me begin with a recipe for a literary cocktail. Take a slug of Robert Harris and an equal measure of Len Deighton, add a splash of Conrad and a twist of Fleming, flame with spirit of Evelyn Waugh, and what you end up with is something close to Guy Saville’s intoxicating debut.

It’s 1952, but not as we know it, and a treaty negotiated in the wake of British defeat by the Nazis at Dunkirk has divided Africa between the Third Reich and her former colonial masters. But Walter Hochburg, governor of Germany’s Afrika Reich, is getting too big for his jackboots and people in high places want him out of the way. Enter Burton Cole, mercenary and aspiring fruit farmer, persuaded out of retirement to do one last job. He has a score to settle with Hochburg. This is the set-up for a glorious, exhaustingly energetic and preposterously violent romp through an Africa which wasn’t, but might have been.

Except, of course, that it is, and this is the true strength of Saville’s novel. Long after you have finished reading it, when the airport-lounge entertainment has run its course, you are left with an adhesive residue of uncomfortable truths. Black Africans have not been herded into concentration camps by white supremacists. But they have been excluded from economic and political influence, burdened by AIDS and deprived of the means of fighting it, condemned to fight out the consequences of empire in civil wars whose vast and imaginative violence make Saville’s book look like child’s play.

Written with style, verve and startling lyricism, The Afrika Reich makes serious points as it entertains. Oh, and it gives a whole new meaning to chili con carne. Brilliant.