Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Spies...and More Spies

With the recent release of the new movie version of John Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I thought that I would read the book instead. (I am no longer going to say "re-read" even if I remember that I read it previously because my memory of the details of the book will be virtually non-existent). I was immediately struck by the epigram attributed to the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes:

TINKER,
TAILOR,
SOLDIER,
SAILOR,
RICH MAN,
POOR MAN,
BEGGARMAN,
THIEF
The version that I learned growing up started with:
DOCTOR,
LAWYER,
INDIAN,
CHIEF
Oh, well. Another one of life's mysteries. Maybe there's a dissertation here on changes in cultural norms.

Having now finished the book and while gathering my thoughts for this blog, I happened to open the latest issue of The Hoover Digest and there it was: "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier...Priest?", Donal O'Sullivan's article about "two treacherous clerics and the Communist infiltration of the Vatican." Yikes!!! The KGB had 2 agents, Pine and Sun, posing as theology and law students in Rome from 1956-1963. Their "mission" was "...to identify anti-Soviet elements, collect compromising information on Lithuanian priests living in Western Europe, and close down secret communication channels between the Vatican and its bishops behind the Iron Curtain." It doesn't get any stranger than this in Le Carre's fiction. You can read the full article here.

TTSS is 99.9% plot: minimal introspection, minimal description, no sex, no violence (what there is of both takes place out of sight). Much of the plot is told through flashbacks (which makes it a great book for a Kindle so that you can look up the previous references to a particular character or code name.) For this aging brain, the intricacies of the plot were best handled in a compressed time frame. That was just the right prescription for a weekend getaway without leaving home.

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