The Gurkhas: A True Story , by Tim I. Gurung , Penguin, 2 stars A history of the Gurkhas – Nepalese soldiers with a fearsome reputation who form part of the British, Indian and other armies – has finally been written by a former British Gurkha, providing a much needed corrective to everything that has been written about them by foreigners. Tim Gurung , who signed up when he was 17 and comes from a family with a long history of service, spent 13 years in the service. The book not only covers his personal history, which involved lengthy periods based in Hong Kong (where he now lives as a civilian), it is also a history of the Gurkhas themselves. Founded in 1815 as a division of the British Indian army, the Gurkhas were effectively split into two in 1947 after India gained its independence from Britain – they were given the choice to serve in either the British or the Indian army. Some were also recruited to serve in Nepal’s army and those of other countries, including Singapore and Brunei. The book is at its strongest when it explores Britain’s exploitative relationship with Nepal; in particular it highlights the scandal of Gurkha veterans who for years did not receive pensions for their service – even those who had been injured in battle. The issue was recently resolved. It also recounts how Nepal sent 200,000 troops, from a total population of just five million, to fight in the first world war (1914-1918), and how 10 per cent of them never returned. A further 250,000 troops were sent during the second world war (1939-1945). Most books about Gurkhas, the author notes, have been written by Westerners with military backgrounds and they tend to reflect that perspective – taking, in particular, a romanticised view of the Gurkhas’ legendary bravery. That reputation, he says, is largely a product of British propaganda, acquired in some part because the British have historically employed Gurkha regiments in the most challenging situations. Every Western writer of a book or article about the Gurkhas appears obliged to begin with a dismissal of Nepal as one of the world’s poorest countries and Gurkha employment is positioned as the best job opportunity available to them, he suggests. It’s a shame, then, that Gurung is guilty of the hyperbole and generalisation for which he chastises those authors. He praises the Gurkhas for their martial virtues in much the same way – and repeatedly makes sweeping statements, as if all Gurkhas are motivated by the same values. Some of those statements are distinctly unpleasant, such as when he claims that Gurkhas do not “suffer from” homosexuality or post-traumatic stress disorder. The story of the various campaigns for justice for the Gurkhas from the British government is told, then immediately retold for no real reason. The chapter “The Effects of Gurkha Recruiting Policy in Nepal”, for example, largely involves running over the same history that’s been narrated in more detail in previous chapters. Another chapter, “The Position of the British Government on Gurkhas”, makes excellent points about the one-sided and often abusive relationship between the British and their Nepali troops. Unfortunately, most of them have already been made – often in almost exactly the same words – earlier in the book. Variations on the phrases “the British take the Gurkhas for granted” and “the British don’t treat the Gurkhas as equals” are repeated to numbing effect. When it isn’t repeating itself, much of the book is a recitation of historical events and extensive lists with little context, with no attempt to engage the reader and no let-up from the bland factual onslaught – about Gurkha regiments, where they’re based and what they do. The biggest problem with the book is the style in which it is written. Gurung is prone to making sweeping and somewhat inexplicable statements such as, “Wherever the Gurkhas had fought, the kukri went with them, and there wasn’t a single battle where the kukri had failed,” as if knives have a tendency to suddenly stop working. The kukri is a knife associated with the Gurkhas. He goes on to make the point that a Gurkha can never be separated from his kukri, then makes the same point, using slightly different words, over and over again for the duration of an entire chapter. That there is a book about the Gurkhas that is written by a former Gurkha is a good thing. It makes worthwhile points about the shoddy ways they have been treated over the years. With a rich history and culture, and the attendant political and social issues, there is a fascinating history of the Gurkhas waiting to be written. Unfortunately, this isn’t where you’ll find it.