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le 5 mai 2013
William Dalrymple's THE RETURN OF A KING is about Afghanistan, which means it's about death in its most horrible forms. A mouth is stuffed with gunpowder and the head blown up; a Shah's eyes are pieced: the hot point of a needle `'quickly spilled the wine of his sight from the cup of his eyes;'' children are strapped to the mouth of a cannon and blasted away before their parents suffer the same fate; soldiers `'slice off the genitals of the fallen and place them in the corpses' mouths''; displeasure is shown by systematically cutting off servants' ears, noses and privates--but sparing their lives so that they can continue to serve; others are scalped. Afghans appreciated fruit, having 40 kinds of grapes, and other fruits, such as those described by the renowned poet Khushal Khan `'There is a boy across the river with a bottom like a peach/But alas! I cannot swim.'' The book concerns the placing of Shah Shuja on his throne. (Another excellent book on the same subject is Ben Macintyre's THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING.) The reading of Dalrymple's book goes slowly until around page 300 (no fault of Dalrymple's, it's just that the soldiers led incredibly boring lives, unable to function in the heat, pampered by innumerable servants) when all hell breaks out. Because of English arrogance, poor policy decisions and their turning Kabul into an open-air brothel, the Afghans finally rose up and slaughtered them, scenes involving children which had to be skipped over. Among Afghans themselves, the best policy seems to have always been to butcher one's enemy, Afghan or other, a policy taken for granted among their own but seemingly never understood by outsiders--today as yesteryear. Like a hornet's nest (or a warning not to touch a hot stove), they really should be left alone. My own books can be found on Amazon under Michael Hone.