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Mission to Tashkent Paperback – November 28, 2002

4.6 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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About the Author

Frederick Bailey was a British explorer and secret agent, considered by many to be the last true player in the Great Game. In 1904, as a Tibetan-speaking subaltern, he had ridden into the forbidden city of Lhasa as a member of a team to investigate reports of a Russian presence there. Later, his travels in Tibet and China earned him the highly prized gold explorer's medal of the Royal Geographical Society. Between 1905 and 1909 he served as a British Trade Agent-really a cover for political intelligence work-at Gyantse in southern Tibet. Later he accompanied a British punitive expedition into northern Assam as its intelligence officer, and was awarded the coveted MacGregor Medal for explorations contributing to the defence of India. During the First World War he was posted as an intelligence officer to Shushtar in Persia, and in 1918 returned to India to undertake the secret mission into Central Asia which is the subject of this book.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (November 28, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192803875
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192803870
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 0.9 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #516,640 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Let's get the bad bit out the way first, F.M. Bailey was not a great writer. This is reflected in Mission to Tashkent, where the style of the writer does not follow what you would normally consider a gripping read. For example, there are one or two occasions where a character in the book is not mentioned for long enough, for you to have to go back several pages to find out who they are. I would have given it five stars had it not been for this.
What Mission to Tashkent is, is a factual account of the Russian Revolution, as played out in Central Asia, where the Bolshevik Russian minority based mainly in Tashkent (now in the independant sate of Uzbekistan) had to overcome White Russian, Moslem and British forces to establish the revolution on Central Asia (the British eventually withdrew, not wanting to become too involved).
In this book, F.M. Bailey, whose previous adventures had involved accompanying Francis E. Younghusband to Tibet in 1904 (on account of the fact he could speak Tibetan), details his journey from India via Kashgar to Tashkent. Once in Tashkent, the book covers the writer's life there, under constant fear of arrest or execution at the hands of the local Bolshevik Provisional Government. His official purpose was as a diplomatic representative for the British in Central Asia, which created much danger for himself, due to the presence of British forces at Ashgabad in Turkmenistan. He also gathered information for the British as to what exactly was happening there, due to concerns that the large number of German and Austrian prisoners of war held in Central Asia could be used to attack British India, if organised into a fighting force by German agents known to operate in Iran and Afghanistan - it was 1917/1918 and Britian was still fighting Germany.
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Format: Paperback
So much of what has happened in Persia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in the last 150 years is due to what has been called "The Great Game." Russia has always been a superpower that lacked a salt-water seaport free of ice all year round. (The Black Sea doesn't count because Turkey controls access to it through the easily defensible Bosphorus and Dardanelles.) Consequently, it has always sought to destabilize South Asia in the hopes of being able to get a port on the Indian Ocean.
One of the highest ranking pieces in the Great Game was the British intelligent agent Lieut-Col Frederick M. Bailey, who wrote this fascinating book. So if you're a great intelligence agent, why is it so difficult to write a good book? Simple: A good intelligence agent keeps too much unsaid. Information is his stock in trade, so he is very sparing of all the interesting details.
Picture present-day Uzbekistan in the first year of the Bolshevik takeover (1918). No one in Europe had any idea of what to expect from the Bolsheviks. Would they become more moderate in time? Would the Muslim population accept them? Would the White Russians defeat them in battle and restore the Czar?
In the midst of all these swirling theories strode the skinny and extremely canny Colonel Bailey. He set himself up in Tashkent as the official representative of His Majesty's Government but immediately ran into roadblocks. Without informing Bailey, Britain had in the meantime engaged the Bolsheviks in battle near Murmansk and near the Caucasus. That quickly made Bailey persona non grata (which meant ripe for execution in those times).
But how does one arrest a wizard? Bailey immediately went underground and assumed the identity of a Romanian, Czech, Austrian, Albanian, or other POW, of which Tashkent had many from those WW 1 days.
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Format: Paperback
As another reviewer remarks, English prose style is not the colonel's strong suit. If ever a book called for the firm hand of a skilled editor, this is such a book. It abounds with inconsequential asides ("I met him years later in Korea"), terse sentences and a wealth of exclamation marks. Nevertheless, this does give the reader an idea of the author's authentic voice and persona - that of an end of empire action man.
The exploits of Colonel Bailey show that the kind of military man that we read of in Rider Haggard and John Buchan's novels really did exist. He would not have been out of place joining an Indiana Jones expedition. He really was an Edwardian action man writ large - bold, resourceful, uncomplaining and considerate of those endangered by his presence.
He is almost a caricature of the quintessentially British officer muddling through to triumph. He comes across as a talented amateur jack-of-all-trades - no James Bond he! He was a fair linguist but, as luck would have it, only had a smattering or no knowledge of the languages of the nationals he pretended to be: Serbs, Austrians, Romanians etc.
He certainly comes across as fearless. On one occasion he nonchalently reads a copy of The Times that he has "borrowed" from a Bolshevik officer in the room next door who had been sent to hunt for him. English sang froid is much in evidence as he casually mentions the executions of numerous people with whom he had been in close association. This guy had more lives than a dozen cats.
The book very much brings alive the chaos and casual brutality of the early days of the Bolshevik revolution in Turkestan. Somehow Bailey slips through it all, constantly striving to get intelligence out to Britain.
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