Sunday, 8 January 2012


The very first RESEARCH question I had to ask was: did the Nazis ever have any plans for Africa? If I’d drawn a complete blank here it’s unlikely I would have continued with the book. As it happens (and as you’ll know from reading the book) they did. Lots. My initial investigations mostly provided details about the Nazis’ schemes for Madagascar – perhaps the best known aspect of their ambitions for Africa. This is the setting and subject for Book 2. Looking beyond the Indian Ocean, however, I also discovered plenty of information for the continent itself.

Although I continued to do research throughout the writing of the book, the main work was done in two blocks: before I began to write, and after I’d finished the fourth draft. The initial research was to get the overall structure of the Nazis’ plans – the big picture, if you will. The second phase involved a lot more detailed research to tease out specifics, everything from Himmler’s recommendation for breakfast in Africa to the thickness of the tarmac on the autobahn.

The actual process of research was akin to mining: going through deeper and deeper layers to find riches. I began with general texts about the period and then using the page notes and bibliographies was able to source more specialised works of history which in turn revealed ever more obscure books eventually leading back to specific archive documents. For instance, Michael Burleigh’s The Third Reich has only five references to Africa in over 800 pages – but each of those was listed in the endnotes offering an array of secondary, often more academic works and so on. I tracked down the latter in various libraries and universities around the world. The British Library was a particularly helpful source of information as was a compendious report on Congo written by British Naval Intelligence – I got hold of a declassified copy.

People often ask me how many books I read to research The Afrika Reich. To be honest I lost count – but it must have been in excess of 50-60. Here's a photo of just some of the volumes I ploughed through. (NB – you might not be able to read the spine of the top book. It’s a 1940s guide to military demolition which I got for Dolan’s character!)

Perhaps the most curious thing about the research – doubtless a consequence of spending so much time immured in Nazi Africa – was that I’d invent certain details only to find later that they were true. The best example of this is how the Nazis planned to redraw the map of Africa. In various texts I read about a map that Kriegsmarine (the navy) and the Foreign Ministry in Berlin had drawn up for Africa, yet despite spending years trying to locate a copy I never could; so in the end the map you see at the beginning of the book was speculative. Then, in the summer of 2009, after I’d finished writing and the book was being to submitted to publishers I finally got hold of the map. To my amazement it was almost exactly how I had envisioned it. All that was needed to get it 100% accurate was the inclusion of a few details, such as naval bases in Dakar and Conakry, and a little bit of tweaking along certain borders.

How is this possible? I once heard an interview with Sarah Waters and she said something similar about her research. The explanation she offered is that when you start doing a lot of it you end up with the mindset of the period/people you’re writing about – and the details flow from that. Without wanting to suggest I think like a Nazi, I couldn’t agree more.

R is also for REVENGE

If the book has a central theme it’s REVENGE. Indeed this is a theme that is explored over the narrative of all three books. Although I never intended too obvious a parallel, I certainly see The Afrika Reich as a post-9/11 book. In the weeks after the World Trade Centre was attacked there was definitely a mood for revenge in America, a mood that led to the mountains of Afghanistan and deserts of Iraq. Burton’s journey can be seen as a critique of that.

On a lighter note, if – as the old Klingon proverb goes – revenge is a dish best served cold then it’s worth noting that Burton swears he never kills in cold blood; indeed when he comes to avenge himself he does so in the oppressive heat of Kongo.

Happy New Year to everybody!


  1. Mango trifle! Isn't that Herr H's breakfast of choice? LOL! Or am I getting my fact n fiction all mixed up!??!? Or just completely wrong! LOL! Or maybe it's lemon and kippers? Someone in the book has mango trifle! I'm sure of it!

    What can I say your Research Rocks Big Time! And a big wave for the good ol British Library - long may this fine institution exist for such amazing treasures!

    It's scary how your Nazi mindset gave birth to a near accurate map of the actual thing! What else...?? :-)

    Oh Khan - or as we Trekkers say: KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!! :-) Happy New Year to you too!

    Take care

  2. Kitty - actaully there's a scene in Book 2 where Hochburg has trifle for breakfast! :o)

  3. A critique of 9/11??? That went right over my head. But now you say it I can see what you mean. Will have to read the book again and pay more attention!

    Isn't the quote about revenge originally from Shakespeare, before the Klingons and Quetin Tarantino got it?

  4. I’ve had two anonymous comments in the past couple of weeks. Firstly, if you want to post I prefer you to use some kind of user name so I know whether I’m speaking to the same ‘Anon’ or different people; secondly, apologies for taking so long in replying: things are rather hectic at the moment.

    As I wrote in my recent posting about ‘Intent’, whether readers pick up on what I’m trying to do (or not) is a moot point! So you can read the book simply as a page-turner and not worry yourself about any other context – 9/11 or otherwise. Equally, it’s there if you want to tease it out. The whole issue of my intent with writing the book and what others have found is an issue I never expected and one that continues to fascinate me.

    As for the quote, I think it originates from DANGEROUS LIASIONS and then disseminates widely. Tarantino may have picked it up from STAR TREK, equally it’s also used in a film called DEATH RIDES A HORSE from the 60s… a film that’s quoted elsewhere in KILL BILL (during the scene set in the House of the Blue Leaves). All of which is getting a bit too film-geeky! :o)

    Thanks for your comment.

  5. Hello Mr. Saville,

    I just wanted to drop you a note and tell you that I am almost done reading The Afrika Reich and I am really enjoying it. As an avid WWII history buff, especially history involving the Nazis and Hitler, I am always interested to read new alternative history novels on the era. Yours is a lot of fun and I intend to read the second book after you have finished it.

    I do have two questions for you that kind of bugged me and I was just wondering if you took them into account.

    By 1945, Hitler's Parkinson's was so bad that he could barely stand or walk. Yet you have him still in charge and traveling the world in 1952. I was just wondering if you ever gave the Parkinson's angle any thought or if we are to just dismiss it for your books?

    The other question revolves around the complete disregard for the Japanese element in WWII. The Japanese regularly acted independently of the rest of the Axis and it was the Japanese that brought the United States into the war, not the Nazis. Once again, I am just curious. Are we to suspend the entire imperialistic notion of the Japanese empire during this time? Is it something you had given any thought to?

    Thanks again for writing your book! It is extremely entertaining. As a writer myself, it is always refreshing to read someone with a smooth approach to telling stories!

    George N Root III

    1. Hello George

      Thanks for your message and sorry not to have replied sooner. I’m glad you enjoyed the book – always pleasing to hear.

      You raise some interesting points which I’ll briefly reply to:

      Whether Hitler actually had Parkinson’s is a contentious issue. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest he didn’t (see Robert Waite, for example, who deals at length with his medical history). I share that view and suspect that the symptoms observed in the 30s where a different neurological disorder, while those in the final years of his life came about through the sheer stress of managing a doomed war. To that end I saw no problem with him still being in charge of the Reich in my world. Incidentally, you might be interested to know that by Book 2 his health is beginning to ail… something that will feed into the plot of Books 2&3.

      Although the book’s focus is on Africa in the early drafts there was more material dealing with Japan. In the end, however, I decided to trim this to a minimum (with just a few references to Japan and the Pacific War to let readers piece together events themselves). I’m assuming you read the US version of the book. This edition was further cut (it’s 8000 words shorter than the UK version) and with these additional trims went the last of the Japanese material. Hence why there’s no reference at all to the Japan in the version you read.

      Hope that clears up matters.