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Eastern Approaches Paperback – 28 Mar 1991
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'Maclean's classic emerges freshly with its mixture of urbanity, passion and shrewdness ... He is witty, clear-eyed and the most elegant of narrative stylists' Observer 'An absorbing mixture of military adventure, political judgement, urbane wit, cool humour and surprising incident' Financial Times 'Remarkable. The graphic writing reveals the ruthless man of action ...' The Times Literary Supplement 'A classic. An unconventional man's unconventional war. The best book you will read this year' - Colonel Tim Collins 'One of the best narratives of action ever written' Punch --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Maclean was a British diplomat who while in Russia became one of the first westerners to explore Central Asia during the Soviet rule. He worked with the British special forces in the North African desert and worked on behalf of the allies with the partisans in Yugoslavia during the Second world war.
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The first part of the book deals with his diplomatic career in the USSR. Maclean quickly tires of the endless cycle of diplomatic receptions and the restrictions upon travel, and decides to see more of the USSR, particularly the Central Asian republics that were still being assimilated into the Union. He sets off on a series of enlightening journeys (with little or no official approval!) that take him far from Moscow to the legendary cities of Samarkand and Bokhara. This is fine travel writing indeed, Maclean giving a very powerful sense of what the Stalinist era was like and also of the exoticism of Central Asia. There are also powerful descriptions of the Stalist purges of 1938 and the accompanying "show trials".
The second part of the book covers Maclean's exploits with the SAS in the North African deserts and the Middle East. Resigning from his diplomatic post to join the Army (using the convenient excuse of becoming an MP!) Maclean serves as a private in a Scottish regiment for some time before being commmissioned and sent to the Middle East. Here he falls in with David Stirling and becomes an early member of the SAS - his stories of their training, tactics and raids are powerful indeed, matched by evocative descriptions of the African landscapes. Maclean moves on to form SAS units in the Middle East, but before long is summoned to go behind enemy lines as Churchill's military representative to Tito's Yugoslav partisans.
The final third of the book mixes military action and politics, with Maclean organising the support for the Partisans and representing them to the Allies. The political agenda here is a little blurred - Maclean is obviously a Conservative who has instinctive support for the return of the Yugoslav monarchy, and yet he admires Tito for what he has achieved in the liberation of his own country, while still maintaining a personal anti-Communist agenda... This section of the book makes the sheer scale of the Partisan operations very apparent, and hints at the confusion between the Western allies over the future fate of Yugoslavia.
This is a splendidly readable book, full of incident and description, with vividly drawn characters. It is told with occasional gentle humour, modesty, and genuine insight.
Maclean's adventures arguably span the end of the "Great Game" - political influence won by adventurers - and the beginning of the Cold War, and his memoirs of this historical crossroads are thought-provoking and highly entertaining.
Maclean was stationed in Moscow at a time when the embassy staff there was still quite small. Black tie dinners and frequent hob-nobbing with diplomats from other legations. As someone who has been to Russia ten times in the last fifteen years, the accuracy of his observations astounded me. It may read as exaggeration, but his tales of drunken train journeys, the smell of BO and cabbage in the tube; the depressingly morose looks of Russians in the street conflicting strongly with their demeanour when behind closed doors; the stifling influence of the security forces and Soviet bureaucracy; all these still ring true today. Most of the space devoted to the time he spent in the Soviet Union does not deal, however, with Moscow (with the notable exception of the last and biggest show trial of the Stalin era), but those regions further south. Whether he went there as a spy or whether we are to believe him when he says that he went there as a tourist, out of plain curiosity, Fitzroy was one of the first Europeans to venture so far south in one hundred years. He captures the sights, sounds and smells of Kazakhstan, Uzbekhistan and Afghanistan amazingly well. How easy to recognize Boukhara and Samarkand, Almaty and the Kush in his wonderfully descriptive writing. In some ways this is the most enjoyable part of the book as the author's love of what he sees shines through his writing.
As the war breaks out, he resigns from the FCO, becomes MP for Lancaster and enlists in the Cameroon Highlanders. He ends up, like so many, in Egypt where he meets his friend, David Stirling (Maclean has innumerable friends who always turn up to help him when he needs them (surely one of the great networkers)), the founder of the SAS. Maclean gladly accepts the offer to join the burgeoning SAS and provides vivid details of a handful of their more famous missions.
His knowledge of the Soviet Union allied to his understanding of guerrilla tactics and missions behind the lines leads to Churchill choosing him as his representative to Tito (Maclean is also well acquainted with Churchill's son, Randolph!). Maclean's role is to ascertain the Communist revolutionaries' importance in the war effort in the Balkans and whether or not the Allies should envision providing more proactive support to them in their fight against the Germans. Maclean quickly comes to the conclusion that Tito's men are many, well organized, efficient, motivated and much more of a threat to the Germans than the fascist opposition in Yugoslavia. He recommends to Churchill that they support Tito as much as possible despite the fact that his men will undoubtedly prove to hold the upper hand in post-war Yugoslavia and are almost undoubtedly sure to turn more to the Soviet Union for support than to the West. Churchill ignores this believing the victory over Germany to override any other consideration. Detailed first-hand accounts again from Maclean about how he dispatched liaison officers all over Yugoslavia; how they helped him and Tito to gain a better understanding of how events were unfolding; which units needed immediate support and how best to provide that; and finally how the Allies helped with ever-increasing air drops, bases and coordinated air attacks. Maclean's role in this theatre of war was huge, his contribution considerable and his effort recognized as he finished the war a Brigadier.
All in all, this is a brilliant account of the very full life of an exceptionally gifted young man.
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