Steve's China Blog

Wednesday, May 07, 2008


Back in January, when I was shopping in a bookstore in Hong Kong, I found a series of books by an English author named George MacDonald Fraser. They looked like they would be interesting, but I did not buy any of them. When I returned back to China I was trying to catch up on the news and discovered that the author had just died at about the same time that I was looking at his books. That kind of stayed in my mind for quite awhile. A friend of mine from work was visiting Hong Kong a few weeks ago, and I asked him to see if he could find me any of the these books and he found two... Flashman at the Charge and Flashman's Lady.

The series of novels are what are called a historical romantic fiction and are the story of the English soldier and adventurer, Harry Flashman, and recounts his adventures throughout the British Empire during the latter half of the nineteenth century, in which he just happens to have been present at just about every single major military event in English history (and also a few American ones) at that period of time. I do not think the stories are as funny as advertised, but the attention to detail by the author of the historical events is well done and the adventures are very fascinating.

Flashman is not what most people would consider a heroic individual. Even though he is intelligent, witty, and funny; he also hates religion, is opinionated, callous, foul-mouthed, an adulterer, a racist, and a brazen coward... sort of like a Bill Clinton in Victorian times. He's much more of a scoundrel than a hero. Flashman isn't very tactful either when talking about what he thinks of non-Anglos, and I think if these books had been published today they would be very heavily edited to avoid offending some (or all) ethnic or religious groups. Although not politically correct, how Flashman talks about people is most likely historically correct.

It's not something I could read all of the time, but I think I will eventually have to find the other eight books in the series. Like it says in Fraser's obituary...

It was all rollicking nonsense; but it had a sterling quality that went to the heart of many sophisticated readers who like to relax with a rubbishy book provided it is well written rubbish.


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