July 05, 2020
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Some Lives Are Thrillers

Forsyth’s real life story is more thrilling than any yarn he ever spun for us!

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Some Lives Are Thrillers
The Outsider: My Life In Intrigue
By Frederick Forsyth
Transworld Publishers | Pages: 352 | Rs. 299

Writers, composers and comedians are, more often than not, people who in private are dour opposites of the cherished public image built up through our own individual connection with the beauty and joy they bring into our lives. Think of the scowly blind Beethoven, the hysterical man with the hyena laugh—Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the mad, possessed Van Gogh, the manic depressive Robin Williams, the neurotic, introverted Woody Allen....

No such contradiction in Forsyth’s case: the man behind the racy, edge-of-the-seat thrillers, meticulously researc­hed and masterfully narrated, often starring charismatic characters, has led a life as extraordinary as some of his characters. Indeed, as this autobiography by the septuagenarian author reveals, this handsome haberdasher has led a life marked by moments of bone-chilling suspense, daredevilry, adventure, romance and intrigue across countries, cultures, continents! He’s the proverbial tinker-sailor-soldier-spy who incarnated variously—as precocious multilingual child prodigy/ star pupil, Royal Air Force pilot, intrepid BBC journalist, renegade ally of a Nigerian rebel leader during a civil war, MI5 listening post/ intelligence gatherer, carrier pigeon, Reuters stringer in Paris and in Communist East Germ­any, daredevil sports car driver, artful lover, husband, tireless traveller/ globetrotter and celebrity author.

The book traces the fascinating, serendipitous trajectory of the Ashford village boy, only child of a naval engineer-turned-major-turned-shop­kee­per father, from that tiny hamlet near the white cliffs of Dover to the nerve centres of the world. En route, the youngster sent on home-stay abroad programmes to France, Germany and Spain manages to acquire street smarts, lose his virginity, learn to permeate the subcutaneous lives of diverse people in diverse tongues and climes. At home he manages, with the support of his remarkable parents, to turn down an offer to be a scholarship student in Oxford, train (against the rules) while still at school as an RAF fighter pilot and eventually join it. Not before taking a few characteristic dangerous detours—  training as a matador in Spain, crashing his car and in the process severing his ear, almost losing a hand, breaking his jaw and all his front teeth.

Our real-life never-say-die hero next incarnates as BBC correspondent in civil war-afflicted Nigeria and gets closely involved with the rebel leadership of Biafra, resulting in a resignation from the Beeb and on to a proactive stint as independent journalist/whistleblo­wer/­­­conscience-keeper, much malig­ned and feared by the establishment, before reinventing himself as a Reuters man in Paris reporting the assassination atte­mpt on De Gaulle—the experience that resulted in the best-selling Day of the Jackal! Posted as the Reuters man in Berlin for a year, Forsyth not only managed to hoodwink but even sleep with his Stasi shadow/honeytrap bait and be the first foreign correspondent to reach the site where the Germans had shot down an American spy plane.

Then, of course, there’s the bizarre  episode of a chance Tel Aviv encounter with the trucker who drove the explosives-­laden vehicle that brought down the King David hotel in July 1946: Israel’s 26/11 moment. Not to mention the sudden twist of fate that catapults him into international literary stardom. Grab this book now: Forsyth’s real life story is more thrilling than any yarn he ever spun for us!

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