Saturday, 8 December 2012


Did you travel to Africa to research the book? This is one of the most common questions I get asked about The Afrika Reich. Although I have lived on the continent (Cairo used to be home) it may surprise you to learn I’ve never been to sub-Saharan Africa.

For the sake of veracity, and in a spirit of reckless adventure Burton would approve of, I did consider travelling to Congo but it soon became apparent this would be extremely foolhardy. With its shifting wars, eastern Congo is one of the most dangerous places on the planet. Kisangani (Stanleystadt in the book) has a force of over 15 000 thousand UN troops to protect it and they rarely venture beyond their compound without armoured support; civilian deaths in the area are rife. When I contacted the Foreign Office about the prospect of going there I was met with an incredulous laugh.

I had a similar problem with Angola. Although its civil war is over and it now has a GDP that is the envy of the West (7.9% last year), outside the capital, Luanda*, it remains a lawless and dangerous place to visit. This is especially true of Lunda Norte – the north-east region where I based Neliah and the Angolan Resistance. Today it is bandit-country, the ground choked with unexploded mines; for some reason you can’t book a trip there on Expedia.

Deep in this region is a real village called QUIMBUNDO, which I made the station Burton arrives at in Chapter 35. Given its latitude with the capital it made a credible spot for the railway to run through. It is the most obscure location I have ever written about. Indeed while working on Afrika Reich, I could only find one photograph of the place:

This lack of on-the-ground research, however, proved less problematic than I initially feared. I acquired a decent collection of contemporary accounts of Congo and Angola as well as drawing on my own peregrinations. I have worked in the Amazon and it was easy to transplant my experiences there – the perma-sweat, clouds of insects, murky forests and broiling concrete cities – to Africa. I must have got something right because, along with the question that began today’s entry, something else people often say to me is: You must know Africa well.

*NB – in case you’re wondering why the spelling is different to the novel Loanda (the colonial name) was changed to Luanda in 1975.