Book reviews: The Madagaskar Plan, Guy Saville
In 1940, Germany's Nazi government came up with a proposal to deport Europe's Jewish population to the tropical island of Madagascar off the south east coast of Africa.
But the plan to seize the windswept French colony and relocate a million Jews there every year for four years was abandoned when Germany lost the Battle of Britain and it became clear that the Allies controlled the Mediterranean Sea.
Imagining the terrible possibilities of Hitler’s Madagascar plan in the second of his riveting ‘what if’ thrillers, Guy Saville returns to the dark, dangerous, nightmare world he created in
The Afrika Reich, his brilliant debut novel which stunned and delighted alternate history fans.
His loyal readers have waited nearly four and a half years for the follow-up, and The Madagaskar Plan, an electrifying blend of real history, fiction, explosive politics and gripping action, will not disappoint.
More ambitious, complex and political in its scope, Saville’s new epic, which can easily be read as a standalone, takes us back to Britain where an uneasy peace deal has been struck with Hitler, the Nazis are in control of Europe and the sound of jackboots echoes across Africa.
Since Britain capitulated to Hitler at Dunkirk in 1940, her Empire has been diminished and millions of European Jews have been exiled to Madagaskar, a tropical ghetto ruled by the SS.
Returning home after a disastrous mission to Africa, ex-mercenary Burton Cole finds his pregnant married lover, Austrian Jew Madeleine Cranley, has been sent to Madagaskar after being handed over to the police by her cruel husband. Desperate to rescue her, he is drawn into a conspiracy that leads him back to the Dark Continent.
Meanwhile, Cole’s nemesis, Walter Hochburg, the Nazi Governor of African Kongo, has also turned his attention to Madagaskar. Among the prisoners are Jewish scientists who could help develop an atom bomb, a weapon of unimaginable power for the Reich.
But Hochburg is not the only one interested in Madagaskar. British intelligence are hatching a plan to invade the island, bomb the naval base and bring America into a war against the Reich, and they have found the ideal man for the task… Reuben Salois.
Salois is the only Jew to have escaped the island’s ghetto, and he is only the only one brave, or foolhardy, enough to return. As these three men converge on Madagaskar and chaos breaks out, the fate of the world is in their hands... Saville ups his game to dizzy new heights in The Madagaskar Plan, a novel not just of action, breathtaking suspense, danger and romance, but a moving, harrowing and thought-provoking tale of humanity and inhumanity, cruelty and sensuality, hope and despair.
In Burton Cole, we have a hero of his hard times. Against one man – the metaphor for a world at the mercy of a horrifying evil – seems to be channelled the violence, dark ambitions and Machiavellian motives of aggressors on all sides of the divide.
With terrifying plausibility, Saville imagines Madagascar as a melting pot of Nazi brutality, audacious conspiracies, desperate battles for life and simmering revolt.
Add to this outstandingly visual prose, ingenious plotting and a cast of acutely observed characters, and you have the most daring, disturbing and compelling alternate history you will read this year.
(Hodder, paperback, £7.99)