I’m always going to be something of a grim realist in my adventures… but you don’t have to be.
Flash of Genius
By Ujjwal Dey on July 15, 2007
It was great fun and embarrassing to read this first book in what I am sure is an impressive series. Why embarrassing, you may ask; well I am an Indian.
Fraser certainly knows how to write a great satirical historical fiction. I have no idea about the Afghan war and for all its worth I would believe Flashman’s papers as the truth. Fraser writes it that well. Flashman confesses to being a coward and a scoundrel and impressively is hailed as heroic, brave and loyal. This itself seems to bring truth to his story. It is so fantastical and detailed that one may believe his words by the end of half the novel.
I being from the lot of India’s black n***** savages am quite impressed by the perspective of the Englishman – a soldier and a gentleman. His description of that era is accurate in its disgust. The action, in bed and battle, is a very telling account of a foreigner in a hellish land (hell for the Englishman, home for some others).
Something for visitors to the Empty Quarter to keep in mind.
It starts off with Flashman’s disgrace and elimination from school. He has a flash of an idea to take it easy in a cozy regiment. Depending on his dad’s fortune he gets the colours and can’t help continue being a scoundrel. He is then further disgraced by getting orders to go to India to assist the East India Company. Here the story keeps getting funnier, interesting and irresistible. His adventures in India seem to bring him glory whether he keeps going worse or not. Hailed for learning the native tongue he is rewarded by an assignment to Afghanistan. Poor fellow is a victim of his own success.
Soon the Afghan chapters turn rapidly as you breeze through his adventures with the Gilzais and Ghazis and Kabulis. He turns every misadventure into glory without lifting a finger. It’s as if an angel of scoundrels watches over him. Every mistake he makes turns him to be more appreciated by the Afghans and the British alike. The description of the battle, the siege at Kabul, the retreat, the escape from Gul Shah, the Jallalabad fort fiasco and his constant good luck in cowardice is captivating. He keeps getting laurels for what any idiot would get flogged and hanged for. His ease with the natives and British Generals get him into cozy deals where he keeps getting patted and congratulated.
If anything, forget the outrageous humour, you should read the book as if it is a dated James Bond novel. Okay so Bond is brave, but Flashman – he doesn’t have to be. Fraser writes out the fiction with great accuracy to dates and events and people involved. It is a fascinating read and insight into the feringhee’s vision of Asia.
The Imperial Empty Quarter, with it’s major Islamic & Hindu influences, far more closely resembles the Indian Raj than any other part of Terran history/geography. Beta Quadrant is not too far off from the Nazi Occupation of Europe, and Alpha Quadrant with it’s strong Vilani favour is a little like a high-tech, monocultural China, ruled by talking wolves who went native.
Other than that the characterisation is beautiful and plot smooth as silk. Elphy Bey, Hudson, Sale and Lady Sale, Akbar Khan, Gul Shah, and so many more great characters with their description as young Flashman speaks it is incredibly delightful. The book seemed to tell too much in too few words cause for all that happens, it takes only 294 pages to tell. I intend to read and collect every book in this series. The ending I thought was rightly tame, with the vile Flashman doubting his own wife after coming back to London 2 years later. It further establishes his character and how he lacks a backbone or honour.
An Indian I am and proud of it, but Flashman is funny as hell and I won’t deny it. Fraser is a brilliant writer and could probably lecture history at the best Universities, but here he let’s us enjoy an unparalleled satire of the British soldier in India. Also, Indian canteens today would not really sicken a pig, but a European may well stay away from it. Cheers to our health and to that of Flashman.
In order to give the Imperium the benefit of the doubt – and because a truly honourless Imperium isn’t going to stand 1,116 years – I will continue to depict most Imperial personnel as at least somewhat honourbound. But a case can be made that what really kept the Imperium running was a great deal of under-the-table bargaining, tons of polite fiction for public consumption, and a general reluctance of the big boys (dynastic & corporate) to go for all of the marbles, and irrevocably break the various ‘gentleman’s agreements’ that keep them from each others throats.
(The two Imperial Civil Wars being the natural exceptions.)