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 Post subject: Return of a King
PostPosted: Sat May 17, 2014 12:03 pm 
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This is an account of the first Afghan War, 1839 - 42 written by William Dalrymple. It is a great shame that he wrote it in 2012, and not at the time when G W Bush and Tony Blair were thinking of taking us into the latest attempt to civilise Afghanistan. However, as he points out, we never learn from history, and no doubt they would have carried on regardless, making all the mistakes that they have.

It tells the story of the determination of Lord Aukland, the East india Company's Governer General, to restore Shah Shuja to the throne of Kabul. He was determined to do this because those nearest to him were determined that the current ruler, Dost Mohammed, was pro-Russian. He formed this view because he listened to some of his advisers and ignored others. The ones he listened to were driven by their own agendas. The one he didn't listen to - Alexander Burnes - actually knew the country, knew Dost Mohammed, and was able to say that the latter was a friend of the British, and had no intention of getting into bed with the Russians.

An unnecessary invasion was followed by an unpopular occupation - the Afghans hated being governed by non-muslim foreigners who cuckolded them and taxed them heavily. Instead of nipping the ensuing rebellion in the bud, the completely hopeless gout ridden British commander Elphinstone never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. As a result, the British suffered a great humiliation, the way they treated their Indian troops fed a lasting resentment among the Indian troops they took with them (the Indian mutiny was initially supported by those regiments who's sepoys had been abandoned to their awful fate in Afghanistan) the Afghans were left embittered against the British, and with a sense of triumph as they destroyed the army on its march southwards, and Dost Mohammed returned to rule a kingdom severely blighted by British punishment. In other words, it ended up being ruled by the same man, but with his countrymen now hating, rather than respecting the British.

This is a great book, and I would thoroughly recommend it. The depressing thing is that it describes a dodgy dossier, sexed-up reports, invaders with no knowledge of or sympathy for the Afghans, and a resulting rise in religious intolerance and jihad. Where have we heard all that before?


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 Post subject: Re: Return of a King
PostPosted: Sat May 17, 2014 12:20 pm 
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That sounds interesting reading, Elstow - I will try and get hold of it.

Funnily enough, I have just read a book called The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh. Whilst it is a novel, it gives a very interesting insight into the Indian view of British rule and how little the Indians seems to have been acknowledged for their part in the First & Second World Wars.

I can imagine a book like Dalrymple's would have required an enormous amount of research, but as you say, had it been published earlier, some lessons may have been learned. Or not, as history tends to repeat itself.


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 Post subject: Re: Return of a King
PostPosted: Sat May 17, 2014 1:03 pm 
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I haven't read that, but have read other books by Dalrymple & thoroughly enjoyed them. He writes very well.

Blaze, if you like thhe Glass Palace you might also like Sea Of Poppies and River of Smoke the first two of the Ibis trilogy by Ghosh.

"Set in north India and the Bay of Bengal in 1838 on the eve of the British attack on the Chinese ports known as the first opium war. In Sea of Poppies, Amitav Ghosh assembles from different corners of the world sailors, marines and passengers for the Ibis, a slaving schooner now converted to the transport of coolies & opium".

I've read both & they are amazing. I learnt a great deal from them & am aching for the third to be published in September. It's been a long wait as Sea of Poppies came out in 2008!

Edit: Sorry for hijacking your thread, Elstow - but one book so often leads to another.


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 Post subject: Re: Return of a King
PostPosted: Sun May 18, 2014 4:28 pm 
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No apology necessary Demi. I love hearing recommendations, and it would be a sterile thread that led to nothing. Please suggest any other books you wish.

On the subject of the Indian contribution to the war(s), the largest volunteer army ever was from Indians fighting for Britain in WW2. A contribution that seems to be forgotten. In WW1, some of the Indian wounded were treated at the Brighton Pavilion, which had been turned into a hospital. There is a monument to those who died on the South Downs north of Brighton.

Incidentally, I first read of the Afghan events as a teenager in "Flashman." I still enjoy these books, and they were meticulously researched. George MacDonald Fraser also wrote "Quartered safe out here" which is his autobiographical account of his time in the army in India and Burma. This is really well written, and a fantastic soldier's eye view of the conflict. I could not praise it too highly.

Completely off the Afghan subject, please also try "Mr American by Macdonald Fraser. A really good read.


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 Post subject: Re: Return of a King
PostPosted: Sun May 18, 2014 5:55 pm 
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Thank you, Demi, for the names of two other books by Ghosh. He writes extremely well and has clearly done a great deal of research. I certainly learnt a thing or two and The Glass Palace has whet my appetite for more !

Another excellent read is John Masters' "Bugles and a Tiger", an autobiography of his life in the Ghurkas and campaign on the north west frontier.
His other books are equally compulsive reading - Bhowani Junction, The Road past Mandalay .......
It's all fascinating stuff - India has a rich and colourful history.


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