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Book Name: The General Danced at Dawn

Author: George MacDonald Fraser

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Overall Rating: (5/5) View all reviews (total 5 reviews)
Description

"Written in the first person, and reading authentically, it purports to record episodes in the life of a young officer, newly commisioned into a Highland regiment after service in the ranks at the very end of the war...Twenty-five years have not dimmed Mr Fraser's recollections of those hectic days of soldiering. One takes leave of his characters with real and grateful regret." - Sir Bernard Fergusson, Sunday Times"It's a while since I enjoyed a book so much, and, indeed, once I'd finished it, I felt like starting it all over again' - Glasgow Evening Times

Reviews

Guided Serendipity

by Douglas S. Wood "Vicarious Life"
(5/5)

After reading the fine reviews already posted by others, one doubts whether another review will add much, but out of habit - near compulsion by now - here goes another - with an emphasis on reading connections.As did many, perhaps most readers of the McAuslan stories, I came to them by way of The Flashman series (My favorites so far:Flashman: A Novel (Flashman)andFlashman in the Great Game: A Novel (Flashman). I enjoyed the Flashman enough to give McAuslan a try. Both series are funny, relate to historical events, and display an ear for language and an eye for detail, but could otherwise be written by different authors. The McAuslan stories are told by the reasonable, sensible, compassionate voice of Lieut. Dand MacNeill and relate the trials of life in a Highland regiment immediately after WW II. In other words, MacNeill could hardly be more different from Harry Flashman. The stakes are lower than in Flashman. The McAuslan tales deal with the mundane life of a soldier waiting for demobe and not imperial crises. These stories read just like tales that actually happened - and something pretty close to them probably did.McAuslan plays less of a role in the The General Danced at Dawn thanMcAuslan in the Rough, but the stories are still a delight to read.The McAuslan stories lie at the outreaches of contemporary humor; pretty obscure stuff and the more fun because of it. A great kick in finding works like these is stumbling upon other works of equal merit and obscurity. It's sort of guided serendipity, if you will. Flashman led not only to McAuslan, but also to John Biggins'A Sailor of Austria: In Which, Without Really Intending to, Otto Prohaska Becomes Official War Hero No. 27 of the Habsburg Empire (The Otto Prohaska Novels)and toArtemus Ward, his book. With many comic illustrations.(not sure how the Ward connection occurred. Mark Twain called Ward the greatest American humorist of his day.).Highest recommendation and climb out on these other branches.


Defending King and Empire for 9 quid a week

by Joseph Haschka
(5/5)

George MacDonald Fraser served in the "other ranks" of the British Army in Burma late in WWII. Commissioned as a subaltern (2nd lieutenant) following the Japanese surrender, he served as a platoon leader in a Gordon Highlander battalion posted to the Middle East before being "demobbed", i.e. released from active duty. His experiences serve as the basis for THE GENERAL DANCED AT DAWN, initially published in 1970, a first person account by the fictional Dand MacNeill, subaltern of a platoon in an unspecified Highland battalion posted first to Libya, then to Edinburgh, during the period 1945-1947.THE GENERAL DANCED AT DAWN is a work of wry humor, inasmuch as Lt. MacNeill describes the unintentionally comic situations encountered with his Jocks (men) during garrison life both in Scotland and abroad, mostly the latter. The book is actually a series of short stories, in which a common thread tying all together, besides Dand himself, is Pvt. McAuslan, the dirtiest, most slovenly soldier in His Majesty's service. As described by MacNeill:" ... he lurched into my office (even in his best tunic and tartan he looked like a fugitive from Culloden who had been hiding in a peat bog) ..."McAuslan may be the focus of a particular chapter, as when he is court-martialed for refusing an order to enter a pillow fight contest to be held during a gathering of the various Highland regiments. Or, he may make nothing more than a brief cameo appearance, as when he is upbraided by MacNeill for fighting one of the crewman aboard the coastal steamer ferrying the battalion's soccer team on a road-trip against the teams of neighboring British commands - a fight brought on by the sailor's comments regarding McAuslan's unsanitary appearance.The squalid presence of McAuslan notwithstanding, the central character of the book is Dand MacNeill, whether he's coping with the unfathomable questions of the officer selection board, pressed into command of an overnight troop train from Cairo to Jerusalem through unruly Palestine, mounting the ceremonial guard at Edinburgh Castle, or taking lessons in regimental piping history from the god-like Regimental Sergeant Major. Dand's narrative of military service is of such good humor and wit that it's evident his alter ego, Fraser, remembers his own time in uniform as an enriching life experience, despite the hardships of WWII combat. This positive slant on the book's theme, and Fraser's/MacNeill's fine sense of the ludicrous, make the volume one that I couldn't put down. (I've encountered so-called "thrillers" that were less absorbing.)Note: THE GENERAL DANCED AT DAWN is currently out of print in the US. However, it and Fraser's two sequels in the McAuslan series, MCAUSLAN IN THE ROUGH and THE SHEIKH AND THE DUSTBIN, are all contained in THE COMPLETE MCAUSLAN, available from Amazon.co.uk. This is a superb volume, worth to an Anglophile every pence spent in postage to deliver it across The Pond to The Colonies.


A great writer on top form

by Maclean J Storer
(5/5)

This collection of fictionalised wartime reminiscences shows a truly great writer firing on all cylinders. With a draining six-year war just finished, the regiment is winding down in North Africa, and such is the way of the military that the men must be kept busy on a variety of more-or-less useless tasks. These they tackle in a hilariously bumbling way, aided to no small extent by the inexperience of their officer, who serves as the book's narrator.They play football well, but let the side down with off-field brawls and gambling, cause havoc on a night exercise and have trouble with their kilts when presenting to royalty. The title story is a tour-de-force, when a crusty, whisky-mellowed General thinks he can redefine the Scottish dancing tradition by turning an eightsome into a hundred and twenty-eightsome, with the assistance of Arab cooks and drivers.Fraser proves enormously clever in melding fiction with reminiscence and delivers a book that is essential reading matter for anyone with a sense of humour.


Chaos in a grungy kilt

by Reader "piratebean"
(5/5)

It is time that you hear "the sub-muckin', the whole cheese, the hail clanjamfry, the lot' about the Scottish Highland Regiment that served in Africa after World War II.George MacDonald Fraser has written the stories of this regiment and its most infamous soldier, Private McAuslan, in three collections: "The General Danced at Dawn", "McAuslan in the Rough", and "The Sheikh and the Dustbin".Through the narration by platoon commander Dand McNeil, McAuslan comes alive as the dirtiest soldier in the world, "wan o' nature's blunders; he cannae help bein' horrible. It's a gift."Yet McAuslan is one of the most loveable creatures in all of literature. He may be grungy, filthy, clumsy, and disreputable, but he tries to do his best. Through his many misadventures, McAuslan marches into the heart of the reader, right leg and right arm swinging in unison, of course.McAuslan, outcast that he is, experiences some infamous moments in his career: court martial defendant, ghost-catcher, star-crossed lover, golf caddie, expert map reader, and champion of the regimental quiz game (!). His tales, and the tales of his comrades-in-arms, are poignant at times, hilarious at others. These tales are so memorable because they are based on true stories.The reader basks in all things Scottish in the stories. The language of the soldiers is written in Scottish brogue, although Fraser says in his introduction, "Incidentally, most of this volume is, I hope, written in English." Don't fret - a glossary is provided. (Reading the glossary alone causes some serious belly laughs.If you read only one book this year, read this one. And if you know any veterans, give them a copy. It's a volume that the reader will not soon forget.


A Farewell to the Gordons

by Roger Kennedy "International Military Music S...
(5/5)

These wonderful stories, written by Fraser when he was an officer in the Gordon Highlanders at the end of the Second World War are priceless. There is much sardonic humor and wit here. The characters come and go throughout the book. Each chapter is a self contained story in itself almost. By far the one character who appears most often is the unhygenic pvt. McAuslan. He seems to do for the Scots what some of the WW2 comic characters like Sad Sack did for the GI's. The author, who speaks through the voice of his nom-de-guerre relates many amusing episodes. Some are a little silly at times, and the constant unwashed antics of "Peking Man" McAuslan gets a bit tiring, but this does not take away from the quality or humor of the work.I like best when Fraser talks about the regimental history and lore of the Gordons when he's taking a break from McAuslan. There are some truly wonderful characters and events related here, all factual enough and displaying the honors and traditions which existed in old Highland regiments like the Gordons. Fraser is at his best when he talks of these traditions and one can see that he relished his hectic years with this famous Highland regiment.The downsizing of the British Empire and the changes this would wrought in the army as well as the world are the backdrop against which these stories are told. This is not a book about war, but about a time when national service was apart of nearly everyone's life. Some of Fraser's opinions may not be considered PC for today, but this in my opinion adds to the charm of these stories. The war and its aftermath left lasting impressions on those who took part. The Gordon Highlanders are sadly no more, having been downsized in 1994. In this book you will find many funny and amusing tales which made them the fine regiment they once were. Those who have followed Fraser in his Flashman series will find a different style here, but equally entertaining in its own right. The McAuslan stories form part of a number of works that were written about the post war years in Britain. "Tunes of Glory" is another more serious example by Kenneth Kennaway.The McAuslan stories have been recently gathered together into a triology which is not available from Amazon.com in the States. The book can be ordered from Amazon.com.co.uk and is well worth the extra pennies to do so.Here's to the Gordons! Long may their memory live!


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