Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hidden, Strange and Mysterious Adventurers

Proving truth is stranger than fiction, this is a short but fascinating list.  Two men who left their home countries for far off places and changed identities and found themselves in the middle of international intrigue (some of it of their own making). 

1.  Hermit of Peking: The Hidden Life of Sir Edmund Backhouse, Hugh Trevor-Roper (1977).    Sir Edmund Backhouse was known as one of England's foremost Chinese experts having donated a large collection of Chinese books to the Bodleian library and authored a Chinese dictionary.  Trevor-Roper uncovered the bizarre truth that Backhouse was one of the most extraordinary liars, forgers and deceivers of the 20th Century.  His story reveals imaginary arms deals made up and reported by Backhouse back to England that resulted in England sending battleships to China.  He is also found to have made up books about the Chinese court where he claimed extensive familiarity with the Empress dowager.  Discovered this book through the recommendation of a fellow bibliomaniac.  Bought used at the State Department Bookstore. 

2.  The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of the a Strange and Dangerous Life, Tom Reiss (2006).  Lev Nussimbaum escaped the Russian Revolution in a camel caravan and under two central Asian aliases.  He transformed himself from a Jewish Russian into a Muslim Prince.  In the midst of World War I, Nussimbaum traveled from Azerbaijan to Berlin to Hollywood.  Bought new. 

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