The Amazing Life of Frederick Forsyth
When reading Frederick Forsyth's The Outsider, people may wonder if art imitates life or if it is the other way around. This memoir is not an autobiography of the prolific writer, since it is a series of recollections and not a chronological narration. It's as if a family member is sitting there, telling his life experiences. Unfortunately, this will be Forsyth's last book, because he is retiring. American Thinker had the privilege of discussing with Forsyth his life and the book based upon it.
Although this book reads more like a thriller, readers get a glimpse of those events and personalities Forsyth has come in contact with. He noted to American Thinker, "I consider myself a journalistic writer, keeping to the facts and making sure they are accurate. I do not write much emotional stuff or fancy language. My books were all contemporary current affairs based on what I had seen. Hell, I made mistakes and have done so many things I chose to write about them, or maybe not."
Before discussing his novels, Forsyth talked about his career as a journalist working for Reuters. He believes that a journalist should retain the qualities of detachment, curiosity, and skepticism. He explained that the title for the book came out of his belief that "a journalist should never join the establishment, no matter how tempting the blandishments. It is our 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 legendary books The Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File were based on Forsyth's real-life journalistic experiences. His first assignment, one that would change his life forever, was being sent to France in May 1962. Paris was a city targeted by frequent terrorist attacks linked to the Algerian War for Independence. A faction of the right-wing French military officers decided to assassinate then-president Charles de Gaulle for what they saw as his acceding to the rebels' demands. Forsyth researched the conspiracy theorists and was in the country when they nearly succeeded, as they riddled the president's limousine with bullets on a trip to the airport.
Readers will also wonder if the scene in The Jackal where one of the characters encounters a countess is similar to Forsyth's own experience of sleeping with the mistress of a high-ranking East German official. Forsyth noted, "The Day of the Jackal was factual, including all the police methods and the French security service operations. It is a twin hunt story, where the Jackal is hunting the president and the police are searching for him. But there is no similarity between my affair and the Jackal's. I had an affair with the East German defense minister's mistress. She was a cougar, about twenty years my senior. I remember her singing this song to me, and one day I found out she was a Nazi singing one of their songs. I thought it amusing that she was doing it with me, a part of the race that conquered her."
The Odessa File is based on the real-life fugitive known as the "Butcher of Riga." It chronicles the life-and-death hunt of a notorious former concentration camp-commander, a man responsible for the deaths of thousands. Forsyth told American Thinker, "Odessa is a brotherhood that is in no way fictional. After the war, many of these mass murderers stripped off their uniforms, adopted another persona, and disappeared into postwar German society, often returning to becoming influential. I was going to invent a character based on these facts, but Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi hunter, told me in a meeting, 'Why invent one? I have twelve.' He pointed to a face and said, 'He is perfect.' It was Eduard Roschmann, a camp commander in Latvia. He was a monster, a sadistic fellow who escaped. Do you know he was found out after the movie came out, when someone recognized him? Since the movie was based on the book, I guess I could take a little credit."
Forsyth is fascinated by the Jewish people's determination and resolve. Shortly after Israel defeated the Arabs in the Six-Day War he was able to meet with two Israeli legends: Ezer Weizman, the first commander of the Israeli Air Force, and David Ben-Gurion, whom he calls the "founding father of Israel. I considered him one of the greatest men I have ever met. I was allotted twenty minutes, but we actually spoke for three hours. He described the creation of Israel in a step-by-step manner. As we talked, I thought how he was a walking history lesson. I could have filled ten notebooks, but I just sat and listened to someone who had seen it all."
He also tells a humorous story of meeting Weizman, who needed to take a trip to Tel Aviv. Forsyth recalls, "I thought he was going to take us in a limo, but he actually meant to fly us there. As he was describing to me the first dogfight he was in during the War for Independence, he took his hands off the controls, which I grabbed. I got a history lesson and a flying lesson all at once."
American Thinker asked Forsyth about the British Foreign Office anti-Semitism. He commented, "I found it odd. On most issues, they reflected a disdain of foreigners, yet they made one exception: a preference for Arabs and Islam. This was mirrored in the left-wing media. Unfortunately, it is still like that today in this country. The Labor Party has been taken over by the extreme wing that is strongly pro-Palestinian and anti-Semitic, led by the liberals, intellectuals, and the left."
He also gave American Thinker a little history lesson about the Labor Party, explaining, "Tony Blair moved from the left to the center to get votes and power. He created the 'right wing.' He was a moderate loathed by the extremists. But now 'Blairism' is dead. The leadership has swung hard left and hates Americans, Jews, and capitalism, just about everything that most of us regard as good. This guy Jeremy Corbyn was put into power when the outgoing leader did something very stupid by allowing anyone to vote in the election for a fee of three pounds. Every Communist, Marxist, and anarchist paid up and got to vote. Unfortunately there is no Winston Churchill to come to the rescue."
Those readers who love an action-packed story based on realistic events can always count on a Frederick Forsyth novel. Sadly, this will no longer be the case, because The Outsider is his last book. Anyone who wants the suspense of a thriller needs to read about this author's full and fascinating life.
The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews and author interviews and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.