Books by Sydney Wignall

Released: March 3, 1997

In a veddy, veddy British memoir steeped in the rhetoric of the early Cold War, a mountaineer on the first Welsh-Himalayan expedition in 1955 is captured for spying on the Communist Chinese occupiers of Tibet. Charged with being a ``Western Fascist Lackey Imperialist Running Dog'' by an incredibly inept but brutal assortment of Chinese interrogators, Wignall, a career explorer and marine archaeologist, seized along with another stouthearted Englishman and a young Nepalese, refused to confess to spying for the CIA. In fact, Wignall was recruited by Indian military officials to gather information on Chinese troop build-ups (though his mission was not known to Prime Minister Nehru's government, which had acquiesced to Chinese sovereignty over Tibet). The trio were confined to unheated cells on starvation rations for three months, during which time Wignall managed to keep a diary—secreted in his air mattress—not only detailing his tribulations but also jotting down information on Chinese military intentions in the region; during periods of solitary confinement, Wignall communicated with his companions by singing messages to the tunes of English dance-hall songs. His captors never caught on to Wignall's dodges. Although frequently threatened with either immediate execution or long-term imprisonment, Wignall doled out laughably erroneous intelligence that was eagerly lapped up by his interlocutors. Finally bowing to international pressure for their release, the Chinese allowed the men to return to Nepal, but only by the most treacherous route, never before attempted in winter, with scarcely any provisions. Even fervent Anglophiles might quail at Wignall's sometimes clichÇ-laden prose (replete with ``sticky wickets'' and ``stiff upper lips''), and the narrative's unabashed political and social chauvinism seems creakily old-fashioned. But Wignall's story is a fascinating time capsule, with some top-notch adventure writing, and his convictions about Communist Chinese intentions were later borne out by that nation's invasion of India. (maps; 16 pages photos, not seen) Read full book review >