Rory MacLean (born 1954) is a Canadian travel writer living in Berlin and the United Kingdom whose best known works are Stalin’s Nose, a black and surreal travelogue through eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Magic Bus, a history of the Asia Overland hippie trail and Berlin: Imagine a City, a portrait of the city spanning 500 years and based on the biographies of key residents including Christopher Isherwood, Marlene Dietrich, Joseph Goebbels and David Bowie.
MacLean was born in Vancouver and grew up in Toronto, graduating from Upper Canada College and Ryerson University. For ten years he made movies with moderate success, working with David Hemmings and Ken Russell in England, David Bowie in Berlin and Marlene Dietrich in Paris. In 1989 he won The Independent inaugural travel writing competition and changed from screen to prose writing. After completing nine travel books in the UK he wrote Berlin: Imagine a City in the capital where he is also a blogger for the Meet the Germans website of the Goethe-Institut. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
MacLean’s first book, Stalin's Nose (1992), told the story of a journey from Berlin to Moscow in a Trabant and became a UK top ten best-seller, winning the Yorkshire Post's Best First Work prize. William Dalrymple called it, ‘the most extraordinary debut in travel writing since Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia’. Colin Thubron considered the book to be ‘a surreal masterpiece’.
His second book The Oatmeal Ark (1997) followed, exploring immigrant dreams from Scotland and across Canada and inspiring John Fowles to write, 'Such a book as this rather marvellously explains why literature still lives'. It was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Then, when the chance arose to meet the Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, MacLean travelled to Burma. Under the Dragon (1998) tells the tragic story of the betrayed land and won an Arts Council of England Writers' Award.
For his fifth book Falling for Icarus (2004), MacLean moved to Crete to hand build—and fly once—a flying machine to come to terms with the death of his mother and to examine the relevance of Greek mythology to modern lives. In his sixth book Magic Bus (2006) MacLean followed the hundreds of thousands of Western kids who in the Sixties and Seventies blazed the 'hippie trail' from Istanbul to India. His seventh book Missing Lives (with photographer Nick Danziger) (2010) chronicles the stories of fifteen people who went missing during the Yugoslav wars. Berlin: Imagine a City - his tenth book - is work of creative non-fiction.
According to the Financial Times, MacLean 'is expanding the boundaries of travel writing by trampling the borders between fact and fiction'. Colin Thubron writes that his distinctive work is in a literary genre of his own, a ‘hyper-real world’ not of travelogue or literal reality but of intense distillation of a journey. In all of his books he tells the extraordinary stories of ordinary men and women, and through fictional devices and creative aplomb enables the reader to empathise with their lives, society and times.
List of books
- Stalin’s Nose (1992)
- The Oatmeal Ark (1997)
- Under the Dragon (1998)
- Next Exit Magic Kingdom (2000)
- Falling for Icarus (2004)
- Magic Bus (2006)
- Missing Lives (2010)
- Gift of Time (2011)
- Back in the USSR: Heroic Adventures in Transnistria (2014)
- Berlin: Imagine a City (2014)
- LCCN 2009-292442
- William Dalrymple, in the first edition of Stalin’s Nose (HarperCollins, London 1992)
- Colin Thubron, in his Introduction to the new edition of Stalin’s Nose (Tauris Parke, London, 2008)
- John Fowles, Taking Ghosts, The Spectator (London) 12 April 1997 p.37
- MacLean received an Arts Council of England Writers’ Award on 29 May 1997
- Michael Thompson-Noel, Time Travel at its Best, Financial Times (London) 22 March 1997 p. 34