Tuesday, 26 January 2016

D is for Diego

DIEGO Suarez – a huge natural harbour on the northern tip of Madagascar – is the setting for some of the climactic scenes of the book. It was also the final stage of my journey around Madagascar.

Welcome to Diego!

I reached the city in the late afternoon and have two particularly vivid memories of my arrival. The first was the dense perfume of ylang-ylang plants; the second was having a hot shower! By that point I’d been on the road for days and although I’d sometimes had the luxury of running water, that water had never been heated. In Diego I not only stayed in what was recognisably a hotel, it had decent plumbing. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed that shower. Afterwards I sat on the veranda of my room which overlooked the Indian Ocean. Writing is often a miserable business but on occasions I can think of no better profession.

Diego Suarez was named after two Portuguese admirals: Diego Diaz and Fernando Suarez, which is rather forgiving given that on arrival in 1506 they murdered and enslaved the locals. Despite attempts to revert back to its native name of Antsiranana most people still call it Diego. It is a pleasant port city: a fusion of Indian, African and Arab influences. Bustling and lushly tropical. During my visit hot winds seemed to blow continually. Just outside the city are empty beaches of white sand and azure waves. But I wasn’t here as a tourist. On my first morning I had an appointment at the city’s naval base.

There’s been a military base on the site since the French established one in 1885. From my research for Afrika Reich I knew the Nazis wanted to build a naval fortress here (it’s specifically mentioned in the Bielfeld Memorandum, their blueprint for the continent if they had conquered it). Over the years this fortress had grown in my mind until it became a towering polygon of steel and concrete housing aircraft carriers, submarines and battleships. The reality was...er... rather different. Although the port impressed with its sheer size, it was utterly dilapidated, and with Madagascar being so poor its navy is hardly formidable.

Nevertheless, the Base Commander, the improbably named Randrianarisoa Marosoa Nonenana, was keen to give me a guided tour – and once again this walking the ground proved invaluable when I came to write the final scenes at Diego: from how the landscape tiers down to the water, to the palm trees sprouting among the barracks; the positions of the gun emplacements and the layout of the workshops.

Across the water there was also a huge runway – which gave me an unexpected motive for Salois’s mission. As an aside, in the months before my visit, the US military had been wanting to use the runway as a staging post for bombers to Afghanistan. The appearance of a strange foreigner fuelled all sorts of rumours amongst the Malagasy sailors. In the few hours I was at the base word got back to me that I must be a CIA agent casing the place out. The other alternative – that I was a British writer researching a book – was dismissed as too improbable.

D is also for DIE HARD

Did you get the reference? This is a clue
Many readers of the first book detected multiple references to DIE HARD. As I wrote at the time, none of these were intended, indeed to the best of my knowledge there’s no allusion to the film anywhere in Afrika Reich. Nevertheless people were adamant, so when I came to Madagaskar I thought I’d put an extended reference to the film in the book. Doubtless, this time round no one will identify it as such! Did you spot it?


  1. Nope. Went over my head. Sorry.

  2. Anon - As, indeed, I'm afraid your comment did! Are you talking about the Die Hard reference going over your head? If you explain more, I might be able to help!