Sunday, August 21, 2011
Diplomat, Soldier, Adventurer, Author
One of my literary heroes is Fitzroy Maclean. By the age of 34, he had lived an exceptional life, experiencing enough for several lifetimes. As a young man, he joined the British foreign service in the mid 1930s where he was posted to the British embassy in Paris. He became bored with his duties there and requested a transfer to the British embassy in Moscow. Maclean witnessed Stalin's show trials during the Soviet purges. At the same time he traveled extensively outside Moscow to remote and forbidden areas of the Soviet Union. He was always tailed by the Soviet secret police and made a game of trying to lose them.
In 1939, he resigned from diplomatic service to volunteer in the military. He became one of the founding members of the British SAS (an elite commando team, roughly equivalent to our Special Forces) and raided behind the German and Italian lines in North Africa. Other wartime exploits including kidnapping a German General, and parachuting into Yugoslavia at night where he joined forces with t the partisan leader Tito. He rose from private to brigadier (British army rank, the US equivalent between colonel and general). He served a British Member of Parliament, authored over 20 books and considered by some to be inspiration for Ian Fleeming's James Bond. Not a bad life.
The one thing I shared with him is that we have both traveled in Central Asia. I buy his books whenever I find them in used book stores and even started a group devoted to his books on Facebook.
1. Eastern Approaches (1949). First released in England, the American edition was released under the title "Escape to Adventure" to make it more appealing to American audiences. I tend to agree. Eastern Approaches does not do justice to the excitement of this book. It details his posting to the Soviet Union in the 1930s and exploits with the SAS during WWII. Bought used but can't remember where. Inscription reads, Speedy recovery and best wishes, your friend Bill Hinchman To Capt. John P[???]y.
2. A Person from England and Other travellers to Turkestan (1958). Stories of intrepid European travellers who ventured to the remote Central Asia cities of Merv, Khiva, Bokhara and Samarkand. Bought both the British and American editions used at the State Department Bookstore.
3. The Back of Beyond: an illustrated companion to Central Asia and Mongolia (1974). Maclean revisits many of the places he ventured to in the 1930s. Illustrated with over a hundred of his own photos. Bought used unsure where.
4. Portrait of the Soviet Union (1988). Maclean's expert knowledge of the Soviet Union allowed him travel the Caucuses, Siberia and European Russia. Filled with color pictures. Bought used at the State Department bookstore.