Risiko: Roman - Steffen Kopetzky

I had the German audiobook of Risiko, and am not aware that this one has been translated, yet. I hope it will be because Kopetzky tells an interesting story, and he does it well.

Risiko (tr. “risk”) tells the story of a real-life event, the Niedermayer–Hentig Expedition, a German “diplomatic” (they were really more spies and insurgents than diplomats) expedition during the First World War that tried to destabilise the British Empire by causing the tribal leaders of the regions that are now Afghanistan and Pakistan to revolt against British rule.

If this sounds similar to the plot of the film Lawrence of Arabia, it is because both stories are fairly similar, except, of course, that the efforts were led by opposing sides in the conflict that was WWI.

Kopetzky tells the story through the eyes of a simple young man who joins the navy as a signaller and joins the expedition to satisfy his sense of adventure. During the trip, he grows up and starts to see the Great Game as both a strategic exercise and from the view of a man who is not that different from the people he meets, and who starts to care for more than his military career or the illusions of glory.

Risiko was a well-written work of historical fiction that investigated a story that is not all that well known, and by doing so managed to avoid stereotypes and cliches. It was a joy to read while also pondering about the real expedition and the effects of colonial history in that region – which ended in the creation of Pakistan as a buffer zone between Russian controlled territories to the west and British India to the east, and is another region which still continues to see conflict over the seemingly arbitrary drawing of a border.

Anyway, this was a thrilling read, which provided a lot of historical context.


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