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A Journal of the Disasters in Afghanistan: A Firsthand Account by One of the Few Survivors by Florentia, Lady Sale

Jacket: Hardcover
Pages: 384 pages
Publisher: Tantallon Press; (October 1, 2002)
Genre: Military History
ISBN: 0972042822

Comments about the author: Lady Florentia Sale (1790-1853), wife of Major-General Sir Robert Henry Sale, wrote a journal of her experiences during the First Afghan War. In January 1842, in what is usually seen as a humiliating defeat for the British army, 4,500 British and Indian troops with around 12,000 camp followers retreated 116 miles from Kabul back to the British garrison at Jalalabad. Within a month, the majority were dead from exposure due to the appalling winter conditions, starvation or bullet wounds. A few were captured, including Florentia Sale. She was held in captivity for nine months before being rescued by British forces dispatched from India. The British then withdrew from Afghanistan. Florentia Sale wrote her journal during her captivity, probably with the hope that one day she would publish it. In 1843, after her rescue, her journal was published rapidly becoming a bestseller in Britain.

Review: First published in 1843 from the personal diary of Lady Florentia Sale, wife of General Sale, A Journal of the Disasters in Afghanistan describes the beginning of what came to be known as the “Great Game” between Russia and Great Britain on the Northwest Frontier of India. Her journal covers the period of the British occupation of Kabul, the insurrection of Afghan tribes, the retreat of the British forces, her captivity and eventual release. Among the details are assassinations, tribal insurrections, treachery, tragedy, captivity and courage.

Obviously, Lady Sale was a woman of great courage, resourcefulness, and intelligence. Her keen attention to detail plus her interesting turn of phase, provide the reader with a unique view into this series of events. This edition’s special features (Publishers preface, introduction, map, drawings, and the glossary of Afghan and Other Oriental Words) prove to be extremely helpful.

The story presented by Lady Sale provides an interesting point of view; she is not a soldier or statesman, but a civilian (though a biased one). Her daily entries are remarkable in their expression and clarity.

The Soviet war in Afghanistan in the1980s, helped signal the end of the U.S.S.R. In present day America, the events of A Journal of the Disasters in Afghanistan are largely unknown too. Yet in Post September 11, 2001 America, it is necessary to know the past of a country where we have continuing combat operations. The history of Afghanistan is now intertwined with that of the United States.

— Reviewed by: Scott R. DiMarco


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