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Former intelligence officer weaves his own experiences into his spy novels

By Stacey Dresner

STAMFORD – Trained as a United States Army Paratrooper, Ranger and linguist, Major (Ret.) Harris Kligman served for 21 years in the United States Army, for much of that time as an Intelligence officer.

When asked if he was a spy during his younger years, he hesitates.

“Can I not go into that?” he says with a chuckle.

You could say Kligman has lived a very colorful life. 

Now, at the age of 82, Kligman is sharing some of the exciting experiences he had as an intelligence officer in a series of fictionalized novels he began writing 10 years ago.

Two of Kligman’s books, The Profession and The Shaolin Covenant, have been self-published via Amazon. 

Published last November, The Profession tells the tale of Nancy Gault, an American concert pianist, who also happens to be a “contract operative with a clandestine organization specializing in assassinations” working with British agent to assassinate a Chinese official.

Kligman says he based the main character on a female operative he knew during his days in Intelligence. But he added the piano angle from his own life.

“I play the piano. I have played piano all my life. It’s a nice escape,” explains the North Stamford resident. “Like building a house, you need a foundation. My foundation in many of these novels comes from experiences I had – something that I experienced that I always weave into the story. And from that I weave in other things that may not have happened to make it more readable.”

During the first two weeks after it was published, The Profession was listed in the top 30 on Amazon’s Top 100 Espionage & Spy category rankings for new releases across all of Amazon. It remained in the Top 100 for 45 more days, and since has sold 350 copies. 

“We were extremely surprised,” says Kligman’s son, Rob Kligman. “On Facebook and social media channels it really took on a life of its own. Through really organic promotion, we really started to see some chatter about the book.”

Another of his books, Her Father’s Daughter, set to be published in March, deals with the Holocaust and a young attorney’s mission to recover artwork stolen from Jewish families.

“It involves aging Nazis, neo-Nazis, Israeli agents, Mossad, and much of what I put in there was from my background growing up and what I learned about World War II,” Kligman explains. “I thought I would bring into this book some of the historical events, both good and bad, that transpired in the camps. One of my characters is a Holocaust survivor.”

“Generally, when I write, my experiences come back to me – the antisemitism, the things that were done to me as an individual, to us in general. And then I bring in things that are factual, so that the reader can learn and visualize what that individual had to face to survive,” he adds.

Kligman’s life “experience” includes growing up one of only a few Jewish kids in a rough neighborhood in Philadelphia.

“[Antisemitism] was always a part of my life unfortunately,” he recalls. “I stood out. There weren’t many of us. It was a tough way to grow up. There were many fights and I tried to give as good as I got. My memories of those days growing up were always about the fights and the harassment my family suffered. The late 1930’s and early 1940’s were not an easy time for Jews in my neighborhood or for that matter anywhere else.

“I remember my father speaking of antisemitism and trying to explain it to me in terms that I would understand,” he recalls. “My father always told me how proud he was of me for standing up for what I was and what we, as a family, believed.”

An only child, Kligman loved the escape that books gave him. He also began writing at an early age.

“Writing was something that always carried through from my earliest days,” he says. “I would get a writing assignment at school or college, it was never a chore for me. It was something I always loved to do.”

Kligman attended Temple University in Philadelphia, majoring in business administration. He also joined ROTC after getting some advice from his beloved father.

According to Kligman, his father asked him, ’Do you want to lead or do you want to follow?’” 

“I said, ‘I want to lead,”’ ‘Then you have to take ROTC in college so when you go in the Army you are an officer and a leader,’” Kligman says his father told him.

In 1958, after graduating he became a commissioned officer at the age of 21.

While he says serving as an officer opened many doors for him, he still had to deal with antisemitism.

“Antisemitism followed me to the United States Army and even though I was an officer, my fellow officers occasionally made comments that were reminiscent of my youth in Philadelphia,” he says. “What mattered – and only mattered to many of them – was that I was Jew. Some were okay with that, others not so much. It only made me stronger.”

After a 21-year career in Intelligence, Kligman retired, but kept his connections to the military. He lived in South Korea for more than four years, where he was trained in Hapkido and became the holder of a Black Belt.  And he continued to interact with various military governments and business entities throughout the Far East, Africa, and South America as a businessman.

Major (Ret.) Harris Kligman served for 21 years in the United States Army, for much of that time as an Intelligence officer.

“My civilian life always was intertwined with my military life for 21 years until I retired officially from the military in 1979 as a Reserve Army Military Intelligence Officer,” Kligman says. I continued with my civilian career as an international vice president for a $20 billion commodities trading company whose varied activities spanned the world.”

Kligman settled in North Stamford 48 years ago, where he and his wife Nancy raised their two sons, Rob, who works in advertising sales for World Wrestling Entertainment in Stamford, and Marc, who lives with his family, including three children, in Las Vegas. 

In his Connecticut home, Kligman says, he has hosted many of the individuals from around the world that he worked with during his international career.

“It was interesting for my children, because they got to meet people from different cultures.” 

Ten years ago, at Rob’s behest, Kligman began writing down his stories – fictional stories of agents and intrigue, with bits and pieces of his own experiences thrown in. For the past decade Kligman has basically been glued to a small table and chair in his basement, banging out his 12 novels on an old Windows desktop PC. 

He has also written four short stories and several children’s books.

Rob and Nancy began making copies of the various books’ manuscripts, which they have shared over the years with family and friends who can’t get enough of Kligman’s stories.

It was Nancy and Rob who over the past year convinced him to publish his books using Amazon’s self-publishing platform – which formats, prints, binds, and aids in marketing the books for a fee.

In each book Kligman thanks his wife and son for their love and assistance: 

“Dedicated to my son Rob, whose relentless urging motivated me to start writing. And to my wife Nancy, whose strength and fortitude kept our family intact over the many lengthy absences.”

They plan to publish all of the novels Kligman has written in the last 10 years in 2021 and 2022. 

Publishing his father’s novels has done more than just make his stories available to the public; Rob says that it has been a meaningful way for he and his parents to come together and bond during the past year’s Covid-19 crisis.

“[We] worked together during Covid to bring to life the imagination of an amazing father and husband,” Rob says. “Literally, it has been Dad, my Mom and myself sitting down at the kitchen table editing and coming up with ideas on how to get his books published. So it has been a true family affair.”

Main Photo: Harris Kligman with his wife, Nancy, and his son, Rob.

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