Frederick Forsyth, former RAF pilot and journalist for Reuters, spoke four languages, enjoyed his share of cigarettes and liquor, toyed with members of the East German Stasi, slept with the mistress of a high-powered Communist official and covered a civil war in Nigeria. All before the age of 30. Forsyth shares his adventures in his entertaining new memoir, The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue, a fast-paced account of his career from post-World War II Europe through the Cold War and on to the present.
Readers who enjoy his political thrillers will particularly appreciate this book, as Forsyth’s own escapades became the basis for many of his stories. The idea that sparked The Odessa File came from a secret organization of Nazis he had learned about while stationed in East Berlin. The Dogs of War originated from harrowing experiences covering a brutal African conflict that nearly claimed his life. In fact, after fleeing the conflict, he returned to England jobless and destitute. So, desperate for money, he penned a novel he hoped would provide some income, based on his memories covering Charles de Gaulle while serving with Reuters in Paris. That novel was The Day of the Jackal, still his most popular work.
Forsyth’s voice is perhaps the most compelling part of his memoir. He writes in muscular, lean prose, with a hint of ironic humor that is mostly directed at his younger self. He is honest about some failed ventures—including total financial ruin at one point—but he saves his harshest criticism for incompetent diplomats, soulless mercenaries and a former Nazi concentration camp guard he encounters one dark night in a German pub.
If you’re intrigued by 20th-century history and politics, Cold War spy-craft or the life of a foreign correspondent, you’ll relish The Outsider.