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An unlikely odyssey and an even more uncommon bond between soldier and translator

An Afghan policeman sits on a rock on a mountain overlooking Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May, 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Ahmad Jamshid)

An Afghan policeman sits on a rock on a mountain overlooking Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May, 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Ahmad Jamshid)

It was off the beaten path that retired U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Michael Moffett first heard about Fahim Fazli.

Moffett, a lifelong New Hampshire resident, was in Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand Province in 2010 on assignment as a field historian when he first heard about the 43-year-old actor posted with American troops. “I said, ‘Wow, that’s kind of interesting.’ I wondered what he was doing here,” said Moffett, of Loudon.

In broken English, Fazli told Moffett he was a translator bringing together Americans and Afghans. He also told him he was interested in someday writing a book about his life.

“I told him I had a little bit of experience in that area and to stay in touch. Maybe I could help him out,” Moffett said.

Over 14 months, Fazli unraveled a story that featured life in communist-dominated Afghanistan in the 1980s, his escape and subsequent time as a refugee in Pakistan, and his arrival in the United States as an aspiring actor. He asked Moffett to co-author the book, and the result was 2012’s Fahim Speaks: A Warrior Actor’s Odyssey from Afghanistan to Hollywood and Back.

The book, which is on the verge of being optioned for a movie, received a gold medal for best biography by the Military Writers Association of America. It was also nominated for book of the year by the Oral History Association of America and the General Wallace M. Greene Jr. Award for distinguished nonfiction dealing with U.S. Marines.

Tonight, Moffett and Fazli will be at Gibson’s Bookstore on South Main Street in Concord to discuss the book, their lives and their unlikely friendship.

It will be Fazli’s first time in New Hampshire.

“I love being here. That’s why I’m excited to show Fahim my world. I’ve seen his world,” said Moffett, a professor of sports management at NHTI.

The book, which Fazli dedicated to his mother and the women of the world, is described by Gibson’s as “an inspiring account of perseverance and patriotism – and of the special love that one man developed for his adopted country – and for the United States Marine Corps.”

“There are so many great messages in the book,” Moffett said. “He’s such an amazing, inspirational person on so many levels.”

Fazli’s story is about a hero’s journey, said Julia Dye, CFO and vice president of production for Warriors Publishing Group. “Coming from adversity, in a country that provided him both those tragic challenges, and the solid foundation of family and culture that stayed with him through his life.”

Moffett was the perfect person to tell that story, she said.

“I think that only a Marine could have understood the nuances of the story: What it meant to leave one culture behind to find another, in the case of the Marine Corps, and why a person would sacrifice for something larger than himself,” Dye said.

Positive endorsements from Bill Murray and Tom Hanks have helped the book’s popularity. Moffett said he was driving through South Dakota on his way to Seattle when he got a voicemail telling him to find a studio, because a television station in Boston wanted an interview.

“I finished and then the local station in Rapid City asked me to stay because they wanted to do a segment on the book,” he said.

Fazli’s acting career has also gained momentum, including appearances in both Iron Man movies and a small speaking part in Ben Affleck’s Argo. He was recently in Morocco, where he had a role in filming Rock the Kasbah with Bruce Willis, Bill Murray and Kate Hudson.

The possibility of Fahim Speaks on the big screen could put his dreams on the fast track.

“It’s very early in that process,” Moffett said. “Fahim, being an actor, loved the idea of his story being a movie. I would love to see it if it ever happens.

“It’s got a good shot for a lot of reasons.”

(Iain Wilson can be reached at 369-3313 or iwilson@ cmonitor.com or on Twitter @iainwilsoncm)

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