‘ve mentioned the Flashman series elsewhere, but I wanted to read the initial book over again (I’m about to loan it out to a literary friend and want to make sure I can talk about it correctly). Anyway, what the hell is this thing, anyway?
Harry Flashman is a character from the old novel Tom Brown’s Schooldays, a windy old moralistic piece. The villain, the bully Flashman, really gave the work its shine (what a name, so classic!). And Fraser, the author, picks up Harry’s life from the moment he’s tossed out of school (recounting in his diary that he did have sense, even at sixteen, to not mix his drinks) and carrying his life forward. From the opening list of awards and honors, we learn that Harry Flashman is a hero’s hero (how many people have won the VC and the Medal of Honor?) But the more we read about him, the more we recognize him as the cad he is.
A friendly, honest cad. Quite the fellow.
Through his eyes, we see the English colonization of India. However, most of the book focuses on their push into (and retreat from) Afghanistan. And if you think we have problems with the place, you should see what the English went through (how about attempting to march out of the country in the snow, unsupplied, and under fire the whole way. Is there any surprise that only a handful of people made it out alive (including, it would seem, Harry Flashman). The history is stunning, the character engaging, the notes fascinating; this was the book that launched Fraser’s most famous franchise.
Still, when I read about the disastrous march and the destruction of the 44th, I had to think about Fraser’s comments when he found that this book was on President George Bush’s nightstand. “Is he even reading the bloody thing?” the author was left to ponder, because history, as we know, repeats itself. And this time around, it’s very, very fun.
Read it. You’ll thank me.