Sunday, November 29, 2015

Review: Beau Geste

My Family and Other Animals (Corfu Trilogy, #1) by Gerald Durrell
Early Education a la Gerald Durrel
I had a rather unfettered childhood thanks to my psychiatrist father. School I found most repulsive and so I hardly attended. The empty field, near our small bungalow, in Bangalore, provided all the education I desired and a gentle elder sibling nudged books my way, when I began to read.
The Secret Seven (The Secret Seven, #1) by Enid Blyton
But, while Enid Blyton corrupted my naive years with her adventure stories, I was more strongly drawn to dictionaries.


The transition to H. Martin, P.C. Wren’s High School English Grammar and Composition was, thus, fairly natural.

High School English Grammar and Composition by H. MartinOur edition was elegantly hard bound and it was a pleasure to dip into the sample essays and passages by great writers. Scrolling through a PDF version now, I find nothing of the sort. Perhaps our antique edition had gems that later improvements lack.

Nevertheless, it was but natural for me to get all excited when I found a novel by P.C.Wren in a local library. 

The more so since we’d but recently seen the film.




Classic Great White Adventure Story, romance, gallantry, chivalry, betrayals, cruel natives are several of the ingredients that were liberally sprinkled on such works. But, at that age and in that time (the early 70s), it was a thrilling graduation from Ms. Blyton’s blighted slimy blimey balderdash.


CHAPTER I


OF THE STRANGE EVENTS AT ZINDERNEUF

Beau Geste
TOLD BY MAJOR HENRI DE BEAUJOLAIS OF THE SPAHIS
TO
GEORGE LAWRENCE, ESQ., C.M.G., OF THE NIGERIAN CIVIL SERVICE

"Tout ce que je raconte, je l'ai vu, et si j'ai pu me tromper en le voyant, bien certainement je ne vous trompe pas en vous le disant."

"The place was silent and aware."


Mr. George Lawrence, C.M.G., First Class District Officer of His Majesty's Civil Service, sat at the door of his tent and viewed the African desert scene with the eye of extreme disfavour. There was beauty neither in the landscape nor in the eye of the beholder.
The landscape consisted of sand, stone, kerengia burr-grass, tafasa underbrush, yellow, long-stalked with long thin bean-pods; the whole varied by clumps of the coarse and hideous tumpafia plant.
The eye was jaundiced, thanks to the heat and foul dust of Bornu, to malaria, dysentery, inferior food, poisonous water, and rapid continuous marching in appalling heat.
Weak and ill in body, Lawrence was worried and anxious in mind, the one reacting on the other.
In the first place, there was the old standing trouble about the Shuwa Patrol; in the second, the truculent Chiboks were waxing insolent again, and their young men were regarding not the words of their elders concerning Sir Garnet Wolseley, and what happened, long, long ago, after the battle of Chibok Hill. Thirdly, the price of grain had risen to six shillings a saa, and famine threatened; fourthly, the Shehu and Shuwa sheiks were quarrelling again; and, fifthly, there was a very bad smallpox ju-ju abroad in the land (a secret society whose "secret" was to offer His Majesty's liege subjects the choice between being infected with smallpox, or paying heavy blackmail to the society). Lastly, there was acrimonious correspondence with the All-Wise Ones (of the Secretariat in "Aiki Square" at Zungeru), who, as usual, knew better than the man on the spot, and bade him do either the impossible or the disastrous.
And across all the Harmattan was blowing hard, that terrible wind that carries the Saharan dust a hundred miles to sea, not so much as a sand-storm, but as a mist or fog of dust as fine as flour, filling the eyes, the lungs, the pores of the skin, the nose and throat; getting into the locks of rifles, the works of watches and cameras, defiling water, food and everything else; rendering life a burden and a curse.
The fact, moreover, that thirty days' weary travel over burning desert, across oceans of loose wind-blown sand and prairies of burnt grass, through breast-high swamps, and across unbridged boatless rivers, lay between him and Kano, added nothing to his satisfaction. For, in spite of all, satisfaction there was, inasmuch as Kano was rail-head, and the beginning of the first stage of the journey Home. That but another month lay between him and "leave out of Africa," kept George Lawrence on his feet.
From that wonderful and romantic Red City, Kano, sister of Timbuktu, the train would take him, after a three days' dusty journey, to the rubbish-heap called Lagos, on the Bight of Benin of the wicked West African Coast. There he would embark on the good ship Appam, greet her commander, Captain Harrison, and sink into a deck-chair with that glorious sigh of relief, known in its perfection only to those weary ones who turn their backs upon the Outposts and set their faces towards Home.
Meanwhile, for George Lawrence--disappointment, worry, frustration, anxiety, heat, sand-flies, mosquitoes, dust, fatigue, fever, dysentery, malarial ulcers, and that great depression which comes of monotony indescribable, weariness unutterable, and loneliness' unspeakable.
And the greatest of these is loneliness.

Wonderful as the film appeared to the young and bizarre girl that I was, the book was far more enchanting. The allure of the French Foreign Legion from which there was no escape. Effectively, a band of White mercenaries. Toss in some good guys.

The good guys are three brothers, orphans brought up by an aunt whom they adore. A situation arises when a jewel goes missing and, to preserve the honour of the aunt, the brothers dash off into the blue yonder.

Alas, in the French Foreign Legion, a sadistic Sergeant Major makes their life hell. If I remember right, most of them die in the end and only one survives, or something of the sort. Immensely satisfactory. Also, this was the first book my son read on his own.


Should you find yourself drawn to this quaint but enthralling read, you can further feed your lust on the sequels:
The Foreign Legion Omnibus Beau Geste, Beau Sabreur, and Beau Ideal by P.C. Wren

Beau Sabreur

Beau Ideal

and

Good Gestes


Racist or not, they’re fun to read and I think it is necessary to read such works to understand how much we absorbed of the mentality of those colonial brigands. Not only us, their victims, who, as a consequence, came to regard each other as filthy natives, but, also, the descendants of the brigands, who act like the man from Barcelona in Fawlty Towers who knows nothing.



Of course, there’s more racism for you! But, laughter is the best way to move past stuff and banning things for being racist does zilch to improve the way people behave. It’s better things remain out in the open.

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