The Madagaskar Plan: Book review
The Madagaskar Plan by Guy Saville is the sequel to his bestselling alternate history thriller, The Afrika Reich. In The Afrika Reich the protagonist, Burton Cole, attempted to assassinate the German governor of Kongo, Walter Hochburg. He spent much of that novel on the run across Africa. The novel ended with the Germans invading the British colony of Rhodesia.
The Madagaskar Plan: Logline
In an Africa controlled by Nazi Germany, an ex-British agent discovers his Jewish lover is imprisoned on Madagascar. With the island rebelling, his archenemy pursuing him, and their children missing, he must fight insurmountable odds to rescue her.
The Madagaskar Plan: Plot Summary
Warning: My reviews contain spoilers. Major spoilers are blacked out like this blackout]secret[/blackout]. To view them, just select/highlight them. Inevitably this review contains spoilers for The Afrika Reich.
Part One: Britain
It’s 1953, in a world where Nazi Germany won the Second World War. They have spent much of the time since then colonising Africa, carrying out a genocide of Africans and shipping the Jewish population of Europe to Madagascar, which is now a country-sized concentration camp.
In London, Madeleine Cranley, who is Jewish, is confronted by her furious husband, who has discovered her affair with Burton Cole. Despite the fact that she is pregnant, he hands her over to the police, telling her that she will never be seen again.
In the German colony of Kongo, the governor, Walter Hochburg, is at war with British-backed insurgents and he’s losing. The invasion of Rhodesia failed badly and now the counterattack threatens Germany’s hold on Kongo. Hochburg interrogates some American captives, who tell him they are searching for Uranium for a powerful new type of bomb. Hochburg thinks this could be the saviour of his African empire and sets off to capture Jewish scientists who understand the physics of the atom bomb.
Burton returns to Britain looking for Madeleine. He discovers that she is on Madagascar and sets off to rescue her.
Part Two: Afrika
In Madagascar, Madeleine gives birth to twins. The SS take them from her and she ends up working in a slave-labour factory. The Jewish resistance, which includes her brother, ambush a train she is on, freeing her. She agrees to join the resistance.
British intelligence ask Reuben Salois, one of the few men ever to escape from Madagascar, to infiltrate the island for them. They have a plan to invade Madagascar and need him to incapacitate the air defences so they can bomb the naval base before the assault. They claim the USA is planning to join the attack.
Salois and his team take a smuggler’s boat to Madagascar, but a patrol intercepts them, grows suspicious and sinks the boat. Four men survive the swim ashore but only Salois makes it through the minefield on the beach.
Hochburg travels to Madagascar looking for Jewish scientists who can build him an atom bomb. Desperate, some of the scientists agree in return for promises of safety for their families.
Burton arrives in Madagascar looking for Madeline. He searches the prisoner records, which are held on a ship. There’s a resistance attack. and during the battle Burton’s plane is destroyed, stranding him on the island.
Part Three: Madagaskar
The characters converge on the town of Antzu, which is a semi-autonomous ghetto under the control of Jews who have decided to collaborate with the Nazis.
Salois, without the equipment and explosives he needs to carry out his mission tries to persuade the Jewish elders to supply him. Madeleine offers to help as Salois has a way off the island.
Hochburg catches up with them. Madeleine [blackout]tries and fails to kill Hochburg then escapes with Salois. Burton arrives too late and chases after her. The governor of Madagascar arrests Hochburg and seizes the Jewish nuclear scientists.[/blackout]
Burton[blackout] joins up with Madeleine and Salois at a pig farm where the resistance have hidden their explosives. Reunited, they head to the hospital at Mandritsara to rescue their babies.[/blackout]
Part Four: Mandritsara
Note: Usually I write a complete plot synopsis including the ending, but as The Madagaskar Plan is only just out I’m not going to spoil the ending. Once it has been out for a while I’ll add the rest of the synopsis. Suffice to say that: there are several twists and some of the main characters die… and not necessarily the ones you might expect.
The Madagaskar Plan: Analysis
After the fast-paced, straightforward adventure of The Afrika Reich, Guy Saville returns with an epic, widescreen sequel that expands hugely on his alternate world.
The Madagaskar Plan has four main point of view characters. First, Burton, who was the protagonist of The Afrika Reich. Second his lover, Madeleine. Third, Hochburg, the antagonist from The Afrika Reich. And finally a new protagonist – the jewish resistance fighter, Reuben Salois.
There are also scenes from the point of view of some of the supporting characters, particularly Hochburg’s incompetent sidekick and the thuggish governor of Madagascar.
Overall, the returning protagonist, Burton, has less time on the page, with the other characters sharing the narrative with him and we learn a lot more about Hochburg, who remains a despicable character despite some attempts to humanise him, and Madeleine, who was off-stage for almost the whole of The Afrika Reich.
The new protagonist, Salois, is an interesting addition. A tortured and self-hating fighter with a horrible secret and a death wish he seems unable to fulfil.
Plot and Style
The Madagaskar Plan is a more thoughtful novel than The Afrika Reich. It’s also substantially longer – over five hundred pages, compared to The Africa Reich’s four hundred. This gives Saville time to build up his large cast and give them all their own stories, which inevitably converge in Madagascar itself.
Saville has also described The Madagaskar Plan as ‘more political’ than The Afrika Reich and I’d agree with this. The Madagaskar Plan focusses a lot more on the hellish consequences of the Nazi plans for Africa and the Jews. Some readers might find passages from the point of view of Hochburg, who as a Nazi is obviously an extreme racist and anti-Semite, disturbing.
The Afrika Reich had an On The Run plot (see Spy Novel Plots), The Madagaskar Plan is more ambitious, widening the panorama substantially with all four main characters having their own intertwining and conflicting Missions:
- Burton: rescue Madeleine.
- Hochburg: find the Jewish scientists, and gain revenge on Burton.
- Madeleine: rescue her children.
- Salois: destroy the Madagascar naval base.
The four missions interact with each other in a relatively complex plot compared to The Afrika Reich. There is a twist and I have to admit it wasn’t the one I was expecting, which is unusual as I can usually predict the course of a novel.
Saville’s writing style remains fast-paced and straightforward, though with an increased number of literary flourishes – the opening chapter in particular has some great imagery.
The Alternate History of The Madagaskar Plan
As The Madagaskar Plan is a sequel to The Afrika Reich, the point of departure is the same: the failure Operation Dynamo – the rescue of the British Army from Dunkirk in 1940.
After this debacle, Churchill resigns and Britain accepts German proposals for a peace treaty. The treaty leaves Britain unoccupied but Germany in control of most of Europe.
The Soviet Union is also defeated and the USA never enters the war, fighting a separate campaign against the Japanese. Germany invades and subjugates many of the European colonies in Africa, except for those that are part of the British Empire.
The novel of course goes into a great deal of detail about the Madagascar Plan itself. The horror of an country-sized concentration camp (Madagascar is bigger than Britain and Ireland combined) is imagined in detail and well evoked. In the back story of the novel there have been rebellions, and the resistance are known as the ‘Vanilla Jews’ as they previously worked on vanilla plantations.
The element I found a little hard to reconcile myself to was how complicit the British and American governments are in the ‘evacuation’ of the Jews – with Britain even sending its own Jewish population to the island. It’s certainly possible that this might have happened in the alternate world, and Saville outlines the basis in research in an Author’s Note at the back of the book, I just prefer to think it wouldn’t have.
Alternate History touches
Part of the fun of reading alternate history is spotting the references to real people and history. A few of the references I noticed in The Madagascar Plan were:
- The MV Wilhelm Gustloff, which is abandoned on the shores of Madagascar and used to store records of the Jewish prisoners. In reality it was a ‘Strength Through Joy’ (KdF) cruise ship that was sunk by a Soviet submarine in 1945.
- The description of Roscherhafen, which is reminiscent of the real KdF holiday resort, Prora on the island of Rügen, Germany, which still exists.
- The ‘Tottenburg’ mausoleums that scatter the African landscape. Planned as monuments to German war dead, in reality only a few were built and only one survives.
- The governor of Madagascar is Odilo Globocnik (who was also the antagonist in Robert Harris’s Fatherland), a war criminal of the vilest sort who in reality committed suicide after his capture in 1945.
- The admiral in charge of the German naval base in Madagascar is Wilhelm Dommes, who in reality was the commander of the U-boats operating in the Indian Ocean, survived the war and died in 1990.
The end of The Madagaskar Plan leaves a major plot thread unresolved, [blackout]the Jewish scientists and Hochburg’s plan to use them to build an atom bomb.[/blackout]. It also has a very downbeat ending. It certainly looks as if Saville is planning another novel, in which case The Madagaskar Plan is the The Empire Strikes Back of the ‘Afrika trilogy’.
Saville has indicated in interviews that the final novel in the trilogy will focus on what happened to Africa’s indigenous population, something that has only been hinted at in the first two books.
Reality: The Madagascar Plan
The Madagascar Plan was a proposal discussed by members of the Nazi regime in 1940. It envisaged the deportation of the Jewish population of Europe to the island of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Madagascar was a French colony, but would be seized by Germany and turned into a prison. The plan was abandoned when it became obvious that Allied control of both Madagascar and the Mediterranean Sea made it impossible. Instead the Nazis began planning the Holocaust.
The Madagaskar Plan: Alternative Book Cover
My alternative cover for The Madagaskar Plan incorporates the yellow star of David, which Jewish victims of the Nazis were forced to wear, and superimposes a silhouette of southern Africa and Madagascar.
The Madagaskar Plan: My Rating
Epic alternate history, and better than The Afrika Reich.
Want to Read It?
A Kill in the Morning
If you like The Afrika Reich and The Madagaskar Plan, then you’ll also enjoy my alternate history thriller A Kill in the Morning, which Guy Saville was kind enough to endorse:
A kaleidoscope of genres: part action/adventure, part espionage, part mind-bending sci-fi… I’d certainly suggest you give A Kill in the Morning a go.
You can read the opening here: The first two chapters of A Kill in the Morning.
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