BEGINNING AS IT does in Baghdad, home to his paternal ancestors, encompassing a war laden with symbolism, and ending somewhat unhappily in rural England, the story of Siegfried Sassoon is timely when the British are engaged again in Iraq, a country they more or less created and may be about to dismantle. Considered in such a context, Sassoon can be seen not only as an interesting writer (would one put it any higher than that?), but as a figure in the long and complex history of Britain's relations - especially her literary relations - with abroad. Not an easy idea to keep in mind, I agree, when reading Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, which many people take to be the quintessence of Englishness. Yet that book could only have been written by an outsider, a man for whom the Shires were, in their way, as exotic as the souk might have seemed to the Cheshire farmers from whom he was also descended.
The question of heredity preoccupied Sassoon in later life. The urge to bury his eastern origins, not least his Jewishness, fought with an equally strong inclination to take ride in them. This conflict. together with his homosexuality, may help to explain the self-dislike discernible at times in his letters. It