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The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue


The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue

Autobiographies are tricky. They can be full of facts and stretched truths in a sort of window peeping into the private lives of a notable, who may even hire someone to ghostwrite for them. Frederick Forsyth has never let us down in his wartime spy thrillers, several of which have been made into blockbuster movies: THE DAY OF THE JACKAL, THE ODESSA FILE, THE DOGS OF WAR and 13 other bestsellers that kept us up all night. Their authenticity rings with truth and action for one very simple reason: Forsyth’s own life was every bit as exciting and filled with danger as his characters.

Forsyth foregoes the route of college at Cambridge or Oxford, and, to his parents’ dismay, joins the Royal Air Force, a career he had dreamed of since he was five years old when he was lifted into the cockpit of a Spitfire warplane at the base in Kent where his father was serving during World War II. England was in the midst of the fighting, and little Frederick was in awe of the men in uniform and yearned to be a pilot. As an adolescent, he spent summers in France and Germany rapidly picking up idiomatic French and Deutsch. His penchant for languages would serve him well as he began writing for a local paper, leading to a position as a foreign correspondent with Reuters, where he met David Ben-Gurion and heard Moshe Dayan tell how he lost his eye.

"With self-deprecating humor, wit and the charm of a born storyteller, Forsyth shares his adventures and misadventures with as much zest as his legendary thrillers."

Forsyth went on to the BBC to cover the Nigerian war with Biafra. When he witnessed the results of what the UK was really doing in that disastrous war and was only allowed to report the company line (which reflected the government point of view), he was eventually relegated to a desk in London. He quit to become a freelance journalist, where he quite literally dodged bullets and mortars and, in one case, an assassin.

With self-deprecating humor, wit and the charm of a born storyteller, Forsyth shares his adventures and misadventures with as much zest as his legendary thrillers. It was his facility with colloquial French that allowed him to eavesdrop in cafes in Algiers and France in the precarious years when France was on the verge of a coup d’état to overthrow President Charles de Gaulle. This harrowing experience framed his first novel, THE DAY OF THE JACKAL. He created a fictional inside assassin whom he called Jackal, and would later learn that he was closer to the truth of that made-up account than he knew.

Forsyth’s maverick behavior eventually lost him his job as a conventional journalist and led him to his typewriter to become a novelist. He believes that the detachment he developed as a journalist has carried over into his writing. His eventual success with his first three books and their adaptation into blockbuster movies led to fame, whirlwind worldwide signing tours, wealth, and then…disaster. He was wiped out by the collapse of the investment firm in which he had invested his trust and entire savings. Dispirited but not destroyed, it further strengthened his belief that the Establishment is not to be trusted and went back to write --- with that journalist’s detached eye --- several more novels.

“A journalist should never join the Establishment,” he writes, “no matter how tempting the blandishments. It is your job to hold power to account, not join it. In a world that increasingly obsesses over the gods of power, money and fame, a journalist and a writer must remain detached, like a bird on a rail, watching, noting, probing, commenting, but never joining. In short, an outsider.”

THE OUTSIDER will lead current and future fans of Frederick Forsyth to reread or pick up for the first time the works of a writer with that detached point of view.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on October 16, 2015

The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue
by Frederick Forsyth

  • Publication Date: October 11, 2016
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
  • ISBN-10: 1101981857
  • ISBN-13: 9781101981856