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California Literary Review

Absolute Friends – by John Le Carré

Fiction Reviews

Absolute Friends – by John Le Carré

Absolute Friends - by John Le Carré 1
A Chance Meeting: Intertwined Lives of American Writers and Artists 1854-1967
by John Le Carré
Little, Brown & Company, 464 pp.
CLR [rating:5]


The Driver of This Car Has No Further Territorial Claims in Arabia reads Ted Mundy’s bumper sticker. Mr. Mundy, the son of a British Army officer, was raised in India at the twilight of the Britain’s empire. He finished his schooling in England and then moved on to a period of sexually charged radical politics where he met Sasha, a diminutive, hobbled, leftist action junkie who will reappear throughout his life. The two worked together for the West during the Cold War: Ted Mundy smuggling out from Eastern Europe the state secrets of East Germany that a disillusioned Sasha provides him at significant risk to his own life.

Elegant, inspired writing, rich characters, a gripping story – the book is vintage Le Carré. What comes through in this one and gives it added significance is a heavy dose of bitterness over America’s foray into Iraq after 9/11. Absolute Friends begins with England concluding its debacle in India and ends with America heading down the same imperialist path with its invasion of Iraq. For Ted Mundy,

It’s the discovery, in the sixth decade, that half a century after the death of empire, the dismally ill-managed country he’d done a little of this and that for is being marched off to quell the natives on the strength of a bunch of lies, in order to please the renegade hyperpower that thinks it can treat the rest of the world as its fiefdom.

As the second Iraq war begins, Sasha reappears in Mundy’s life inspired this time by a George Soros type character named Dimitri – a rich international businessman who wants to use his ill-gotten billions to make the world a better place. Mundy is suspicious of Dimitri, but concludes he might be the only solution for a world sinking further and further into hell. Dimitri roars,

And don’t give me that horseshit about Old Europe. We’re looking at the oldest America in the book. Puritan zealots butchering savages in the name of the Lord…but whoever owns the truth owns the game…Anybody who nails the lies is a radical malcontent. Or he’s an Islamist anti-Semite. Or he’s both.

Another character calls America’s foreign policy preemptive na?veté, that

rests on the assumption that everyone in the world would like to live in Dayton, Ohio, under one god, no prizes for guessing whose god that is.

It appears that John Le Carré has reached the point in his life when there is no time for subtlety, no good reason to hold back or shade the truth. In the hands of a less talented writer this might tip the scales from art to propaganda. And supporters of America’s foreign policy might view Absolute Friends in that light. But I suspect most will find, as did this reviewer, a wonderfully entertaining and courageous book.

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