Thursday, 24 November 2016

Book conversations: The Outsider

The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue
Frederick Forsyth
Bantam Press 2015

I must confess right at the beginning: I have not read a single book by Forsyth.

I only vaguely remember seeing The Day of the Jackal - the film, but other than that I don't know much about Forsyth's writings, except that they are mostly thrillers.

I read biographies mainly for the message from the life of the chief protagonist, and in this case, to know how Forsyth took to writing and managed to churn out so many bestsellers.

Right at the beginning, Forsyth makes it very clear that he does not like autobiographies, and that this work is not intended to be one.   The book is arranged in the format of a series of significant events in Forsyth's life that are not only entertaining and informative, but when strung together, serve to connect his life in a continuum from childhood to his present state.  So this is probably the closest you are going to get to an actual life-story of Forsyth in his own words. 

And what a life-story it is!  Don't be fooled by Forsyth's introductory words of finding solace in solitude so much so that it has become an essential requirement of his writerly life.  This is only after he took to writing, which he humbly admits, happened by fluke.

Before all that, he has done so many things and has been to so many different places that one finally realizes that his writing is actually a result of experiences accrued during his hyperactive heydays.  (He has been to many countries, that is, except India.)  It is almost as if he was acquiring the raw materials required to put together a fruitful writing career in later life.  

But from a writer's perspective, Forsyth's transformation from a state of an adventurer's and traveler's restlessness to a state of quietude and tranquility required to actually sit down for days at a stretch to write - on an old typewriter, we are told - novels after novels is stupefying.

One wishes that he had revealed how this transformation actually took place, what changes occurred in his lifestyle thereof, and how he managed these changes without upsetting his family - which is what every writer hopes to achieve in his/her life.

Instead, we get to learn about Forsyth's many adventures of his life; such as cross-country treks, hitchhiking, lessons in flying, learning new languages, and nearly triggering a third world war.

His foray into Japan teaches us about the geisha culture and he also talks about Buddhism and Shintoism.  Indeed, he talks of every religion except Hinduism.  I am not sure as to why India and Hinduism do not figure in his experiences; most obvious guess would be that he never came to India.

That apart, it is probably due to the fact that all things Indian do not feature prominently in the West's scheme of things, as Rajiv Malhotra would point out.  Forsyth makes only a passing mention about 1947; that too in the context of some Israeli occurrence, with no mention of the other significant event of that year.

I suppose 1947 was a bit of a non-event for the Britishers in those days - the days of the Raj were done and dusted, and they had other local things to keep them occupied.

All in all, an entertaining read.

Forget Jackal, read this far more exciting account of its writer's own life.

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Saturday, 12 November 2016

Book conversation: Legacy

Legacy: Letters from Eminent Parents to their Daughters
Sudha Menon
Random House India, 2015

Legacy is an interesting one: it gets mothers and fathers, mostly famed industrialists and a few from other vocations, to write letters to their daughters.  Why daughters, you ask?  Perhaps it is to do with the newfound interest in all things feminine.  

But put that aside, and you have a worthy collection of thoughts on making it big in life from those who went ahead and did it.  The recurring theme across all the letters seems to be to find your passion in life - even if it happens to be offbeat - and work hard towards making yourself a success in the field.  

Along the way, it also helps, they advice their children, to spread the goodness and help those less privileged than yourself.  

The thoughts shared by most parents is in keeping with the notion that a positive outlook in life breeds further positivity in terms of material/monetary success and fulfilment.

Among the clutch of letter writers, all but one have written open letters to their daughters.  Menon reveals some of the things that are to feature in the actual letters in the introduction to them, which takes away the freshness of the contents of the letters.  

That apart, it must have taken a brave and persistent effort to pursue and convince some of the busiest professionals to share their intimate thoughts - something that each of them may well have preferred to reveal them in their own autobiographies.  That makes this a commendable effort.

And yes, Legacy would make an ideal gift to someone you love.

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