Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Book Review: Brazen Chariots

A recap of British tank involvement in the battle of North Africa in Rommel's waning days, Brazen Chariots almost disappointed me.

For a significant portion of the memoir Robert Crisp injects too little emotion and merely reduced to describing antiseptic movements of his tank and crew around the desert.  Even encounters with German armor are reduced to the most basic and dry of descriptions.  We get little in the way of the descriptive capabilities of the author in the first half of the book.

The second half contains the payoff and boy is it worth it.  Take this passage for example:

In the same moment I saw the puff of smoke from the anti-tank gun and felt and heard the strike on the armour-plating.  Quickly I looked down into the turret.  A foot or two below me the gunner was staring at his hand, over which a dark red stain was slowly spreading.  Then he gave a scream and fell grovelling on the floor.  In the top right hand corner of the turret a jagged hole gaped, and through it, like some macabre peepshow, I could see the gun being reloaded.  I knew that in another few seconds I would be dead...

This is just one example of Mr. Crisp's clean and clear prose at its fullest impact.  Later notable episodes include an incident of fratricide and a particularly horrific series describing his near death from shrapnel that had impacted his head and the resulting trip by ambulance and following hospital stay.

In reading up on Mr. Crisp after the fact, he also seems like one hell of a guy and someone I'd admire.  Born in Calcutta, Crisp was a professional cricket player who was denied a number of commendations specifically at the behest of the English commander Bernard Montgomery due to Crisp's run ins with his commanding officers.  Additionally Crisp was well known for his womanizing, twice summiting Kilimanjaro, swimming the length of Loch Lomand, sailed around Greece, farmed Minks, spent a year walking around Crete after being diagnosed with cancer and was frequently employed as a journalist.

I think I have someone else to put up on my list of heroes along with Hemingway and Fitch...Well done Mr. Crisp...Well done...

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