Sunday, 13 May 2012

H is for HERERO

I’ve always been fascinated by the great Victorian expansion into Africa and from my previous reading was dimly aware of the HERERO and the fate they suffered under the Germans.  However, it wasn’t until I was fleshing out Neliah’s character and ethnic background that my memory was jogged. 

The Herero are a tribe from South-West Africa in what is modern day Namibia. At the end of the 19th century this region became a German colony (DSWA, part of the Second Reich) and after years of encroachment on their territory the Herero finally rebelled against the European settlers. The Germans responded with unbridled savagery: slaughtering thousands, leaving many more to starve. Between 1904 and 1907 it has been estimated that 80% of the Herero were wiped out. The parallel between this and Hochburg’s plans for the continent seemed obvious – hence why I made Neliah a Herero.

(NB: this is a very simplified version of events, those seeking a more detailed account can find out more on Wikipedia. I would also recommend the book The Kaiser’s Holocaust, published by Faber.)

A couple other details that might interest:

1.      Several unexpected threads can be drawn between events in DSWA and the Third Reich. For example, the colonial governor in the years leading up to the Herero uprising was Heinrich Göring, father of the notorious Nazi. While one commanders of German forces was Franz Ritter Von Epp who went on to found the KPA, the administrative body that would have ruled Africa had the Nazis conquered the continent

2.      I taught myself a smattering of Herero while writing the book so all the lines Neliah and Zuri speak in their native tongue are correct (I hope!). However, my study-source was a book published in the 1890s which meant some words – helicopter, for example – didn’t exist. In these cases I had to neologise, creating new words from combinations of existing ones

Curiously, some of the first readers of Afrika Reich thought the Herero massacres were a fabrication; one publisher cited this as a reason for rejecting the book (i.e. he felt it was a strand of alternative history ‘too far’). I think this demonstrates how poorly known this genocide is while also proving the dictum, ‘Those who are ignorant of the past are doomed to repeat’. Many historians believe what happened to the Herero was a precursor to the Holocaust, indeed the BBC even made a documentary called From the Herero to Hitler, which rather neatly leads me to...

H is also for HITLER

One of the first decisions I made with the book was that HITLER would not directly appear in it. The same went for other well known Nazis.

Some readers have told me they would have liked a cameo, or even a more substantial role, but personally I felt it a bit crass. It also misses the point of what I’m trying to do. (I had a similar reaction to those who suggested I include people such as Nelson Mandela or Ben Gurion.) I think alternative history works best if these real figures are like shadows: their darkness falls across events without their physical presence.

Having said all that, I do have a scene in mind (the prologue of Book 3) where an on stage appearance from Hitler might be necessary. We’ll see...


  1. I can't believe a publisher thought the Herero genocide a work of fiction! :-(

    Again with this book 3!! We so need book 2!

    Take care

  2. Hi Guy

    There's a dedication at the beginning of the book. Is that Herero? It's doesn't look like anyother language I know. Or is it a code? Robert Harris uses a code at the beginning of Engima, so does Alex Scarrow in his books. What does it mean?


  3. Already bored with the Jubilee so was wondering, Guy, When we can expect the next blog?

    Great poster, by the way!

  4. Kitty - Book 2 is on its way. Soon... ish... ;o)

  5. Debbie - yes the dedication at the front is Herero. Basically it means 'thank you'.

  6. Ron - unfortunately I've been ill these past couple of weeks so negelecting my blogging duties.

    That said a new entry is on it's way soon. In fact it's going to be a double entry with some interesting illustrations. Watch this space!

  7. Looking forward to it. Sorry to hear you've been ill.

  8. Hitler appears in the HBO movie of Fatherland with silver hair and a silver mustache. It's the dumbest scene in a dumb film. A wise choice to leave him out of your book.

    1. Anon - I was always disappointed with the film adaptation of FATHERLAND, Hitler's cameo being a case in point. Wisely, in the book, he doesn't appear - always the best way.

  9. Hey,

    I'm just curious about your depiction of the nazi's racial policy in Africa. I understand even though Hitler was foremost a German Nationalist (he was prepared to war with Anglo-Saxons and leave the white's of Australia & New Zealand to the Japanese.) The nazis were motivated by 'Nordic Theory'.
    My questions are -

    * If the black populations were 'resettled' in the Muspel were the Arab populations of Africa also?
    (The nazis policy towards the black people was constantly in flux, i doubt extermination was on the cards. However you said you would deal with this issue in the sequel so i'll wait and see)

    * Who are the people who make up the local populace in the novel? If the Blacks have been deported then who is left to inhabit the territories? There is a Greek character mentioned but during a round -up many category 4 types (slavs) are found. How come slav's are allowed in the new territory given that in the novel the nazis were intent on 'Aryanising' the continent?

    * Why are the blacks being exterminated (hinted at in the novel) yet the Jewish people are resettled in Madagasgar? Surely given the nazis fanatic hatred of the Jews would it not stand to reason that it should be they, and not the black Africans, who are exterminated?


    1. Sean – thanks for your comment and sorry not to have replied sooner. There are a lot of questions there, all of which are answered more fully in Books 2 & 3, but I’ll give you a few quick replies now.

      In reply to every thing you’ve raised I would say that Nazi polices were often highly contradictory, schizophrenic even, often to the point of seeming illogical.

      The Nazis stoked Arab nationalism, partly as a policy to unsettle the British and French in the Middle East, they also formed ‘Muslim legions’, so in my alternative history the Arabs have not been resettled in the same way as the blacks.

      As it says in the book, the new populations of German Africa are colonisers from Europe, as well as anyone from abroad (eg USA, Brazil) who could prove German dissent. As I also hint, there would be serious problems trying to populate not only Africa but Hitler’s empire in Russia. Vast swathes of territory would simply be empty. Slavic people are in Africa solely as workers; the implication is that they’ve either escaped or are traded.

      Nazi policy towards the Jews is a deeply complex issue, and not as straight forward as Hitler simply wanting to exterminate them. My reading of the history is that the policies became more extreme as the war turned against Germany. Given my divergence point is 1940, it’s possible that the Jews could be sent to Madagascar as opposed to murdered. A lot of the research I’ve done seems to back this up. I don’t know if you saw my recent posting on Facebook but some of the background reading I’ve been doing even shows that Zionist Jews preferred to side with the SS over the British! All of this will be dealt with in greater detail in Book 2. It’s a fascinating, complex subject and a lot of it contradicts easy assertions about the Nazis (though just to be clear, I’m in no way denying what the regime did).

      You raise some very interesting points – I hope the above answers some of your questions!

      Best wishes


  10. Thank god you didn't put Nelson Mandela in it! Who suggested that idea? It's crass, about the worst I ever heard!!!