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the Complete Review
the complete review - memoir



Quartered Safe Out Here

by
George MacDonald Fraser


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Quartered Safe Out Here



Title: Quartered Safe Out Here
Author: George MacDonald Fraser
Genre: Memoir
Written: 1992
Length: 241 pages
Availability: Quartered Safe Out Here - US
Quartered Safe Out Here - UK
Quartered Safe Out Here - Canada
  • A Recollection of the War in Burma
  • Includes a new Epilogue, Fifty Years On

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well-presented, vivid description of a sliver of the war in Burma

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Spectator A 27/6/1992 J.L.Carr
TLS . 12/6/1992 John Colvin


  From the Reviews:
  • "[An] admirably engrossing account of a few memorable months." - J.L.Carr, The Spectator

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Quartered Safe Out Here is a memoir of George MacDonald Fraser's wartime experiences as a soldier in Burma in the last year of World War II. He was only nineteen when he came to Burma, and the war was already wending to a close -- first in Europe, then in Asia --, but the combat was no less fierce for that -- and, in some cases, more desperate. One can hardly speak of typical experiences: almost every soldier fights a different war, and Burma was different from the many other battle-fronts. But Fraser does give a good idea of many aspects of the war experience, from the camaraderie to the horrors to the pains -- and the satisfactions.
       "Burma was a barebones war", Fraser says, with simple arms and close-range combat. He focusses on the ten-man infantry section ("Nine Section") with which he shared most of his Burmese duties, one tiny piece of the Fourteenth Army. There is clearly a novelist at work here, in how he sets his scenes and develops his characters, and how he focusses almost solely on his experiences with a particular group of characters (though his actual experience was clearly more varied). There is a great deal of dialogue, not all of which Fraser can expect us to believe he actually remembered verbatim, as recorded. Still, Fraser's novelistic touches are all for the best. It makes it all seem terribly real, authentic not in a strict literal sense but able to convey what it was actually like.
       Fraser admits from the first that absolute historic veracity isn't his goal: not that he makes anything up, but he doesn't remember exactly when and where everything happened, more than forty years after, and he is often surprised comparing the official records with his own recollection. But it is his recollection -- how he remembers it -- that he wants to recount; there are histories enough already for the other details.
       Fraser covers the basics of the war there -- the bigger picture, including the final smashing of the Japanese lines that doomed the army in 1945, and the consequences. He also explains much about the military, and the warfare of that time and place, from what arms were used by whom to supply drops, from strategies to conflicts, rivalries, promotions, duty, the sometimes long waits between engagements, and what it was like to enjoy a few days leave in Calcutta.
       He also provides a lot of insight into the small battles that made up most of the end-stages of the war. There are raids, patrols, snipers, booby-traps. Occasionally, the enemy is engaged at closest range. Bullets whistle by young Fraser. He sees comrades die. And ghastly mistakes leading to friendly-fire fatalities also occur: war is far from perfect.
       There are also humorous episodes, and Fraser is particularly taken with the largely good-natured camaraderie of his fellow-soldiers, heroes all to him. There's lots of mutual ribbing, but every man knows he can rely on the others. (Note that much of the dialogue -- especially the jocular dialogue -- is given in Cumbrian dialect, with a few footnotes meant to aid translation: it can still be an effort to decode their speech.)
       Fraser also goes in for some modern-day editorializing: about the use of the atomic bomb, about modern soldiers complaining of suffering from stress, about the touchy-feely talk of today, about hating the Japanese. Some of it is understandable, some seems a bit self-satisfied, using what he went through to justify his opinion (fair enough, perhaps, but not always the ideal way of looking at the world). At least he makes it unmistakably clear where he stands (and often enough why he stands there).

       George MacDonald Fraser is a very fine writer: he knows how to tell a story (and from the individual episodes to the way this book as a whole is conceived his presentation is expert) and he almost always finds what seems to be just the right tone. He can be self-deprecating, reasonable (even as he presents unreasonable ideas and events), humorous (very funny indeed, often), but he also knows how to treat deadly serious material. It's a difficult balance to strike in a book about wartime experiences, but Fraser manages it almost throughout all of Quartered Safe Out Here.
       The Cumbrian dialogue can be a bit much for some readers, and some of Fraser's opinions seem a bit our of place, but overall Quartered Safe Out Here is a fine, entertaining, and interesting read.

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Links:

Reviews: George MacDonald Fraser: Other books by George MacDonald Fraser under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       English author George MacDonald Fraser was born in 1925. He is most famous for the books in the Flashman series, but has also written numerous other works of fiction and non-fiction.

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