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Forsyth’s saga

British author’s part memoir recounts war, spying and literary success.

 

5 Non Fiction Books

Best-selling author Frederick Forsyth fondly remembers his lurid youthful scrapes and escapes in his part-memoir, THE OUTSIDER: MY LIFE IN INTRIGUE (Bantam, $37). At a fast lick, he recreates his journalistic career evading the Stasi in East Berlin, shadowing de Gaulle in France and dodging bullets in sundry unpleasant African coups and hot spots. There’s even an episode of genuine spying, couriering a parcel from behind the Iron Curtain. Add the whirlwind of his literary success. But his thoughts keep returning to the horrors of the Biafran War, and the lies his government invested in. No wonder this Ripping Yarns-type tale skips the years when fatherhood and wealth brought him a more settled existence.

A professor of social geography, Alastair Bonnett is intrigued by places that are non-places – either unmapped, lost spaces or stranded by history. Some of the 47 short pieces in OFF THE MAP (Aurum Press, $29.99) are outstanding ­– China’s spanking new ghost cities and the unnoticed un-town burgeoning in an LAX parking lot, for example – whereas others (a fox’s den? floating pumice rafts?) seem makeweight. Fewer topics in more depth would have been fruitful. But when Bonnett is on song, he is full of surprises, and this offers an intriguing new direction for travel writing devotees.

Following on from Philipp Blom’s acclaimed The Vertigo Years, which explored Western history from 1900-1914, comes his FRACTURE: LIFE AND CULTURE IN THE WEST 1918-1938 (Atlantic Books, $32.99). Blom shows us a Western society bewildered by social upheaval following the Great War, coping with public and private grief, searching for certainty and truth, unsure of how to build a new society and grappling with technological inno­vation and ideological schism. His peculiar talent is for enriching known facts by adding illuminating context. Combined with a sure hand with narrative, it makes this account both enlightening and compelling.

Former White House press correspondent Lynne Olson’s CITIZENS OF LONDON: THE AMERICANS WHO STOOD WITH BRITAIN IN ITS DARKEST, FINEST HOUR (Scribe, $35) makes an excellent fist of examining US-UK co-operation in World War II, focusing on the relationships and activities of three prominent Americans living in London. US Ambassador John “Gil” Winant, FDR’s Lend-Lease director Averell Harriman and newsman Ed Murrow all stuck to Winston Churchill – and he to them – like burrs to a sock, to the extent that all three fell into romantic entanglements with members of his family. Olson pulls no punches and is candid about US truculence and mutual mistrust.

In GAMELIFE: MEMOIR OF A CHILDHOOD (Text, $40), Michael Clune reminisces in deep detail about the experience of losing himself (as a seven-year-old in 1983) in computer games. Like so many other socially awkward youngsters, he finds the electronic world an absorbing alternative to dealing with the general unfathomability of the real world and especially the complexities of relationships. It’s part memoir, part story of his developing thought processes as he claims he learned to dream and imagine, but it’s not fully realised in either case.

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