Saturday, 16 July 2016

U is for URALS

It’s a year to the day since The Madagaskar Plan was published. Have you read it yet?

The URALS are a range of mountains in Russia. If the Nazis had defeated the Soviet Union, the Urals would have become the natural boundary of Germany’s Eastern Empire. Many historians, however, believe a total defeat of the Soviets would have been impossible and that a guerrilla conflict may have continued on the fringes of the new Reich for years. Such a proposition is referred to in other alternate histories such as Fatherland and more recently Dominion. Hitler himself acknowledged the possibility with his infamous quote: ‘People say to me: “Be careful! You will have twenty years of guerrilla warfare on your hands.” I am delighted at the prospect... Germany will remain in a state of perpetual alertness.’

The Urals, looking towards the east

The Afrika Reich began as a more ambitious, five novel sequence. Originally it contained a trilogy set in Nazi Africa featuring Burton and Hochburg, bookended by two standalone novels. The first of these, Seven Bridges to Toledo, was set during the Spanish Civil War and included Patrick, Tünscher and Cranley. You can read more about this project here. The final book in the sequence was called East of the Urals and was set during the collapse of the Nazis’ Eastern Empire. The main character of Urals was Tünscher, returning East on a mission to assassinate a renegade colonel: Standartenführer Kanvinksy, the only SS officer ever to be recalled because his methods were regarded as too extreme – think Kurtz in the mountains. Horrifyingly, he was a real person. Tünscher also had a softer, more personal motive for his journey East, what he describes to Burton as his ‘debts’.

Because I plotted the sequence of five novels well ahead of writing them, much of the Urals story was foreshadowed in Madagaskar. Kanvinsky is even mentioned in Chapter 50. That is why the Urals are such presence in the book, like a gust of icy wind blowing through the narrative. Globocnik would most certainly have served out there too which is why his sections are peppered with references to the East.

For commercial reasons it’s now very unlikely that the Spanish and Urals books will be written. In the original sequence of novels Tünscher was only going to appear in the odd-number books – so we wouldn’t discover the truth about his debts till the fifth book. I have now truncated this – with his debt subtly explained at the end of Madagaskar and the full significance playing out in Book 3.

Beyond the Urals is Birobidzhan. It is never mentioned in the novel (only in the historical note), though Globus and Tünscher occasionally allude to it. Madagascar is where the Nazis planned to deport the Jews of Western Europe; the Jews of Russia were to be exiled to Birobidzhan, in Siberia. If it’s possible, Birobidzhan would have been worse than Madagaskar: monsoons and insufferable heat in the summer, thirty below in the winter.

Birobidzhan is one of the many things I wanted to include in Madagaskar but was unable to because of word length issues. In the final couple of blog entries I’ll discuss others things that didn’t make it into the published book.

U is also for URANIUM MINE

The URANIUM MINE that Hochburg visits in Chapter 7 – Shinkolobwe – is a real place in Congo. The reason I chose it as a location is that it was the source of the uranium used in the two bombs dropped on Japan at the end of WW2. You can read more about the place in this excellent article by Patrick Marnham.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

S is for SALOIS

Reuben SALOIS is the main new character in The Madagaskar Plan, and one of the three mentioned on the back cover: ‘Burton... Hochburg... Salois... the fate of the world is in their hands’. I’ve mentioned Salois before – here, in this blog from the first book. He’s another of my recycled names/characters... though his first name gave me months of anxiety. I must have gone through thousands of Jewish male names to find the right one, only settling on Reuben in the final weeks before the book was finished.

From the start it was important I had several Jewish characters in the book. Partly this was to assuage any criticism of writing about the subject matter solely from a Gentile point-of-view, partly so the reader could experience the world I had created at ground level. Salois is one of the first Jews to be shipped to Madagascar, so we see the whole Jewish experience through his eyes – from the journey to the equator, to the work gangs, the first rebellion and beyond.

The character went through various incarnations from the entirely realistic, complete with ‘normal’ backstory, to the more mythic figure he is in the finished book. [Spoiler alert.] Salois is borne from the ancient tradition of heroism. The Greeks believed a hero was someone who performed great deeds; the idea of morality – whether in the deeds themselves or the person doing them – was irrelevant (the link between heroism and doing good arrives in the medieval period and Age of Chivalry). The other big influence on Salois was Harmonica from Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West, which leads me to...

I’ve left this entry as one of the last because I want people to have the chance to read the book before turning to this blog. There is a revelation about Salois I must make. Some readers understand it, others don’t. If you’ve read Madagaskar and are happy with your interpretation of Salois, there’s no need to read on. From what people have already reported, he’s one of their favourite characters. But if you want to know my intention, it is this. [Major spoiler alert.] Salois is a phantom; he is not entirely of this world. He is ‘Azrael’, the avenging angel of Jewish mysticism. Of course it is possible to read the character in an entirely naturalistic way, but I wrote him as a man returned from the dead to put right a great wrong. It is the sin of his own life and the sin committed against his race. There are clues to this everywhere in the text.

Two final pieces of trivia. His parting line is based on Prospero’s farewell in The Tempest. We never learn Salois’s actual name. Like Harmonica, and very much in the Leone tradition, he is a man without a name.