“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” author John le Carre, who threw false spies on the gloomy chessboard of rivalry during the Cold War, has died at the age of 89.
“It is with great sadness that I have to tell myself that David Cornwell, known to the world as John le Carré, passed away after a brief illness (not related to COVID-19) in Cornwall on Saturday evening, December 12, 2020,” he said. agent in a statement.
“His resemblance will never be seen again, and his loss will be felt by every book lover, all interested in the human condition,” said Jonny Geller, CEO of The Curtis Brown Group.
Exploring treachery at the heart of British intelligence in spy novels, le Carre challenged Western assumptions about the Cold War by defining for millions the moral ambiguities of the battle between the Soviet Union and the West.
Unlike the brilliance of Ian Fleming’s undisputed James Bond, Le Carre’s heroes were trapped in the mirrors of the wilderness in the British intelligence service, which withdrew from the betrayal of Kim Philby who fled to Moscow in 1963.
“It’s not a shooting war anymore, George. It’s a nuisance,” Connie Sachs, a British intelligence expert living expert on Soviet spies, told spy detective George Smiley in his 1979 novel Smiley’s People.
“It’s gray. Half angels fighting half devils. No one knows where the lines are,” Sachs says in the final novel of Le Carre’s Karla trilogy.
Such a gloomy depiction of the Cold War shaped popular Western notions of the rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States that dominated the second half of the 20th century until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Cold War, for le Carre, was “A Looking Glass War” (the name of his 1965 novel) without heroes and where morality was for sale – or betrayal – by spy masters in Moscow, Berlin, Washington and London.
Betrayal of family, lovers, ideology and country runs through le Carre’s novels that use the fraud of spies as a way to tell the story of nations, especially Britain’s sentimental failure to see its own post – imperial decline.
Such was his influence that le Carre was credited by the Oxford English Dictionary with introducing espionage terms such as “mole”, “honey pot” and “sidewalk artist” for popular English use.
British spies were angry that Le Carre portrayed the MI6 Secret Intelligence Service as incompetent, ruthless and corrupt. But they are still reading his novels.
Other fans included Cold War warriors such as former US President George HW Bush and former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
David John Moore Cornwell was born on October 19, 1931, in Dorset, England, to Ronnie and Olive, although his mother, despairing over her husband’s infidelity and financial irregularities, left the family when he was five years old.
Mother and son were to meet again decades later, even though the boy who became le Carre said he endured “16 crooked years” on charges against his father, a flamboyant businessman who was in prison.
At the age of 17, Cornwell left the Sherborne School in 1948 to study German in Bern, Switzerland, where he joined British spies.
After a spell in the British Army, he studied German at Oxford, where he informed his left-wing students for the British domestic intelligence service MI5.
Le Carre was awarded a first-class degree before teaching languages at Eton College, Britain’s most exclusive school. He also worked at MI5 in London before moving in 1960 to the Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6.
Posted to Bonn, then the capital of West Germany, Cornwell fought on one of the toughest fronts of Cold War espionage: Berlin in the 1960s.
When the Berlin Wall rose, Le Carre wrote “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold”, in which a British spy sacrifices a former Nazi who became a communist who is a British mole.
“What the hell do you think spies are?”, Asks Alex Leamas, the British spy who is finally shot at the Berlin Wall.
“They’re just a bunch of filthy, nasty bastards like me: little men, drunkards, ships, chicken-pooped men, officials playing cowboys and Indians to light up their rotten little lives.”
By throwing British spies as ruthless as their communist enemies, le Carre defined the displacement of the Cold War that left broken people in the wake of distant superpowers.
Now rich, but with a failing marriage and far too famous to be a spy, Le Carre devoted himself to writing and the greatest betrayal in British intelligence history gave him material for a masterpiece.
The discovery, which began in the 1950s with the removal of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, that the Soviets had driven spies recruited in Cambridge to penetrate British intelligence hammered confidence in the once legendary services.
Le Carre weaved the story of betrayal in the Karla trilogy, which began with the 1974 novel “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and ended with “Smiley’s People” (1979).
George Smiley tries to track down a Soviet mole on top of Britain’s intelligence service and fights with Soviet spy master Karla, the ultimate mole master who sleeps with Smiley’s wife.
Smiley, betrayed in love by his aristocratic wife Ann (also the name of Cornwell’s first wife), traps the traitor. Karla, compromised by an attempt to save her schizophrenic daughter, defects in the West in the latest book.
After the Soviet Union collapsed and left Russia’s once powerful spies poor, Le Carre turned his focus to what he perceived as corruption of the US – dominated world order.
From corrupt drug companies, Palestinian warriors and Russian oligarchs to lying American agents and, of course, outspoken British spies, le Carre painted a depressing – and sometimes polemical – view of the post-Cold War world chaos.
“The new American realism, which is nothing but gross corporate power embedded in demagoguery, means only one thing: that America will put America first in everything,” he wrote in the preface to “The Tailor of Panama.”
He opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and his anger against the United States was evident in his later novels, which sold well and turned into popular films but did not match the mastery of his bestsellers during the Cold War.
But how much was it in a spy life?
“I am a liar,” Le Carre was quoted as saying by his cinematographer Adam Sisman. “Born to lie, born up to it, educated to it by an industry that provides for a livelihood, practiced in it as a writer.”