Thank goodness I'd already read the original Flashman so I knew what was coming, or else I might have given up on this early on. The first 80 pages arThank goodness I'd already read the original Flashman so I knew what was coming, or else I might have given up on this early on. The first 80 pages are all about cricket, which may be fascinating to a Brit, but to an American was like reading a foreign (and boring) language. However, I knew enough about Flashy to keep reading, and it was well worth it. What followed were two great - if disjointed - stories of Flashman in Singapore/Borneo and then a totally bizarre Madagascar that reads like a missing section of Gulliver's Travels; how had I never heard of Queen Ranavalona before??
Other than the overlong cricket section, the book also suffered from a lack of resolution in several places - main characters and story arcs like Brooke and Don Solomon (and whole continents like Asia) just disappear with no explanation. But what remained was all 4-star excellent. By description only, Flashman should be a buffoon or a cartoon character, but thanks to Fraser's excellent writing and voice he comes across as surprisingly human and sympathetic, if not necessarily someone you'd want as a travel companion....more
My good friend (and Goodreads buddy) Jim has been trying to get me to read Flashman for years, but somehow I never got around to it. However, finallyMy good friend (and Goodreads buddy) Jim has been trying to get me to read Flashman for years, but somehow I never got around to it. However, finally picked this up and was totally hooked - there's a reason he's become such an iconic figure. He's like a 19th Century Forrest Gump - if Forrest was British, way smarter, and a total (yet for some reason, still likeable) asshole.
It probably helps to have at least a basic knowledge of the British Empire and its colonial skeletons, but there are so many events from that period that I've heard of but don't really understand - the Khyber Pass, the Light Brigade, Balaclava, etc. - and these books look like a really enjoyable way to learn a little history. As I'm currently sitting in a really lame Sheraton in Borneo, I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Flashman's Lady, which is about Flash's adventures with James Brook, the "White Rajah" of Sarawak....more
“This book is to be neither an accusation not a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to fa“This book is to be neither an accusation not a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped shells, were destroyed by the war.”
From these opening words to the very last page (which finally explains the title in one last heartbreaking irony), this book is a beautiful, brutal history lesson that is perhaps even more relevant today than it was in 1929.
Reading All Quiet on the Western Front was a perfect follow-up to Winston Groom’s excellent non-fiction account of the same trench warfare, A Storm in Flanders - “perfect,” that is, if you want to be intelligently and elegantly led into a totally bleak assessment of how (not) far the human race has really come. Western Front doesn’t really have much of a plot. It is more a beginning-to-end series of arresting scenes and images. The telling details simply noted in passing – the rows of fresh yellow coffins, still smelling of pine and resin; the blue faces and black tongues of the gassed corpses; the frozen clods of winter earth, which during shelling attacks become as deadly as the bomb fragments themselves; the panicked soldiers pissing into a bucket so that the water-cooled machine gun can keep firing – are painful in their precision; this is a book that was lived, not researched. And indeed, Remarque has described the book as being “simply a collection of the best stories I told, and that my friends told, as we sat over drinks and relived the War.” Understanding that, you can see how each story could have come from a different soldier – leave, killing in the crater, sex in the hospital, the Russian prisoners, guarding the supply dump – yet he weaves them into a single narrative that is both breathtaking and heartbreaking.
At times, our hero’s ruminations can get, well, too German: “In the quiet hours when the puzzling reflection of former days like a blurred mirror, projects beyond me the figure of my present existence, I often sit over against myself, as before a stranger, and wonder how the unnamable active principle that calls itself to life has adapted itself even to this form.”
But most of the time, Remarque’s prose is eloquent, spare and pointed:
“Our artillery is fired out, it has too few shells and the barrels are so worn they shoot uncertainly, and scatter so widely as even to fall on ourselves. We have too few horses. Our fresh troops are anemic boys in need of rest, who cannot carry a pack, but merely know how to die. By thousands. They understand nothing about warfare, they simply go on and let themselves be shot down. A single flyer routed two companies of them for a joke, just as they came fresh from the train – before they had ever heard of such a thing as cover.”
“Bertinick has a chest wound. After a while a fragment smashes away his chin, and the same fragment has sufficient force to tear open Leer’s hip. Leer graons as he supports himself on his arm, he bleeds quickly, no one can help him. Like an emptying tube, after a couple of minutes he collapses.
“What use is it to him now that he was such a good mathematician at school.”
“A word of command has made these silent figures our enemies. And a word of command might transform them into our friends. At some table a document is signed by some persons whom none of us knows, and then for years together that very crime on which formerly the world’s condemnation and severest penalty fall, becomes our highest aim.”
No wonder Hitler ordered this book burned.
It’s funny: I’m always surprised that so many of the “modern” weapons are war are older than I thought. I always associate napalm with Vietnam, but it was used much earlier and with devastating effect on Tokyo and Dresden. And I always think of flamethrowers in WWII, but they were introduced in the trenches of Belgium along with poison gas and that other and apparently most frightening innovation: the tank. “We do not see the guns that bombard us; the attacking lines of the infantry are men like ourselves; but these tanks are machines, their caterpillars run on as endless as the war, they are annihilation, they roll without feeling into the craters, and climb up again without stopping, a fleet of roaring, smoke-belching armor-clads, invulnerable steel beasts squashing the dead and wounded – we shrivel up in our thin skin before them, against their colossal weight our arms are sticks of straw, and our hand grenades matches.”
I was mad at the Germans after reading Flanders, and I’m mad at them still – just as I’m mad at all the people behind (so very far behind) the war. But Paul Baumer could just as well have been British or French - or Japanese and Vietnamese. He is an eloquent everyman, a good soldier who is at the same time one of the strongest anti-war voices who has ever spoken.
This is a book that truly should be read by everyone; it is a book I should have read years ago and should just be rereading now for the third or fourth time.