Tales from the life of Bruce Wannell: Adventurer, Linguist, Orientalist - Kevin Rushby
Bruce Wannell was the greatest Orientalist traveller of his generation: a Paddy Leigh Fermor of the East, a Kim for our own time. He lived in Iran through the 1979 revolution, worked for a decade in the North West Frontier during the wars in Afghanistan and could transcribe the most complex Arabic calligraphy by sight. Although he lived in the lands of Islam he also knew all the artistic treasures of Christendom.
His curious combination of talents scholar, linguist, musician, translator and teacher - were duplicated by an international network of friendships with poets, spies, aid-workers, diplomats, artists and writers. Speaking Iranian and Afghan Persian with a dazzling, poetic fluency, he could also talk in Arabic, Pushtu, Urdu, Swahili and could lecture fluently in French, Italian, English or German. In the last fifteen years of his life he lived for a third of the year in Delhi with William Dalrymple, hunting down unpublished Mughal histories and providing the author with translations of historical documents.
It was an extraordinarily successful double act, which produced four revisionist south-Asian histories that were also international best sellers. The rest of the year was balanced by other travels, working as a dragoman-guide or pursuing his own esoteric researches, based in the modest footprint of a tiny attic in York, triple-lined with books. It was worthy of a medieval wandering scholar or a bare footed Dervish.
Bruce had a number of identities, which gives this collection of original essays from trusted friends and old colleagues a dazzling diversity. They give a fascinating insight into a remarkable and diverse life. He was a man who could quote Hafiz from memory, rustle up a lethal cocktail, lose himself in Brahms, open any door, organise a concert within days of arriving in a foreign city or walk across a mountain with just walnuts and dried mulberries in his pocket.