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Absolute Friends Hardcover – January 12, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Le Carr‚ may have changed publishers, but his latest novel remains as resolutely up-to-date as ever. In place of the old Cold War games, his recent books have dealt with the depredations of international arms merchants and the impact of predatory drug manufacturers on the Third World. Now his eloquent and white-hot indignation is turned on what he sees as a duplicitous war in Iraq and the devious means employed to tarnish those who oppose it. The friends of the title are two beautifully realized characters, both idealists in their very different ways. Ted Mundy, the bighearted son of a pukka Indian Army officer, leads a life in which his inborn kindliness and lack of self-regard are turned to what he sees as good causes. With Sasha, the crippled son of an old Nazi who turns bitterly against that past only to be tormented by the rise of a new brutalism in East Germany, he forms a double-agent partnership that feeds British intelligence during the Cold War years. With the collapse of the Soviet system, Ted is at loose ends, trying both to make ends meet as a cheery tour guide for English-speaking visitors to Mad Ludwig's castle in Bavaria and to support his Muslim wife and her small son in Munich. Suddenly he hears again from Sasha, who tells him that a mysterious benefactor wishes to enlist his services as teacher and translator to counter the widespread propaganda on behalf of an Iraqi war, and he is inflamed once more with a desire to help. The grim consequences are spelled out by le Carr‚ with a deadly fury that is startling in the context of his usual urbanity. With a largely German setting that recalls some of his earliest books, as well as the same embracing clarity of vision about human motives and failings that gleams through all his best work, this is a book that offers a bitter warning even as it delivers immense reading pleasure.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* There has been a linear evolution in the mind-set of le Carre's spies over the years--from agonizing over the moral ambiguity of the craft set against a firm belief in its necessity (the Smiley novels), through opting to place individual values over national ones (A Perfect Spy and Russia House), to recognizing that bureaucracy has poisoned the intelligence business from within (the post-cold war novels). Now, driven by recent world events, that evolution takes an even more radical step--to the realization that ideology is irrelevant, that powerful governments are an evil unto themselves, forever the enemy of individual life. It is a harrowing journey to that somber knowledge for Ted Mundy, expatriate son of a British army officer, and his "absolute friend," the crippled German radical Sasha, whose idealism finally engenders its own chaos and makes him easy prey for the powerful. Jumping backward and forward in time, le Carre reveals the history of a friendship in the context of a lifetime of commitment gone sour: student radicalism in Berlin during the '60s; active spying for the West during the waning years of the cold war; and, finally, a parting of the ways, with Sasha continuing to search for the revolution of his dreams while Teddy finds a separate peace. But Iraq and a reunion with his friend reignite Teddy's fervor, paving the way for the inevitable tragedy. Yes, le Carre uses Teddy as a mouthpiece for some strong political opinions (the U.S. is described as a "hyperpower that thinks it can treat the rest of the world as its allotment"), but the novel never becomes the author's soapbox. The human story remains paramount, even if the chilling message is that human stories don't stand much of a chance in the world as we find it. Bill Ott
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Series: Le Carre, John
  • Hardcover: 455 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316000647
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316000642
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (251 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,486,513 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John le Carre was born in 1931. His third novel, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, secured him a worldwide reputation, which was consolidated by the acclaim for his trilogy: Tinke, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; The Honorable Schoolboy, and Smiley's People. His novels include The Little Drummer Girl, A Perfect Spy, The Russia House, Our Game, The Taileor of Panama, and Single & Single. John le Carre lives in Cornwall.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Curiosity #3 on January 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is indeed not your typical Le Carre story. It is more literary than commercial - hence some of the negative reviews here complaining of boredom. Don't read it if you want something fast-paced and suspenseful. The suspense in this one builds very slowly. What this story lives from is the study of two characters whose lives remain intertwined through the second half of the cold war until today, and in which they play some role in the big game of espionage. It is also a mini-study of political Germany of the same period. The achievement of this book is something I have never seen from an English-language writer before: true grasp of Germany's political culture, its language and people (I am German myself). It wasn't always like this: in earlier novels Le Carre, too, has misspelt words and names, and altogether given too shallow an interpretation of what was happening. This book however is a quantum leap in that sense. Le Carre's understanding of German radical leftist thinking, language and actual history is uncanny. This is perhaps the only chance you get to hear the voices of the far left speak in its original tone - but in English.

The greatest failing of this story is that it builds so slowly and then comes to a sudden, abrupt and not very convincing end. The (evil) American operation that concludes the book is absurd and could never happen in this shape. The Americans wouldn't try it, and German authorities would never allow it. Le Carre has tried to make a point of course, but I didn't feel he made it very well.

I would, however, like to make one comment on the accusation that this book is somehow "anti-American". This is only true if any book that is critical of a specific German/French/Russian government's actions is "anti-German/French/Russian". In other words, it is not.
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70 of 83 people found the following review helpful By Gary Griffiths VINE VOICE on February 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
So let's get the politics out of the way first: LeCarre clearly is in vehement opposition the war in Iraq, supports the notion of American "imperialism", and apparently counts himself among the European neo-socialist elites. Too bad, and surely enough to infuriate me often enough while reading "Absolute Friends". But despite the anti-American rhetoric in LeCarre's latest work, he is still by far the most convincing and accomplished spy-writer of our times and, as "Friends" is proof, still capable of spinning an engrossing and thought-provoking tale.

"Friends" traces the lives of two aging radicals, very different in their backgrounds but very much the same in their commitment to all causes counter-establishment. Ted Mundy, Pakistan-born ex-pat son of a patriotic but delusional British Army major, is barely making it in modern day Germany as a tour guide. Living with a former Turkish prostitute common law wife and her son, Mundy flirts with Islam while maintaining his British roots but, paradoxically, still showing glimpses of apologetic pride in his British heritage. The "absolute friend", Sasha, is an unrepentant and idealistic German radical for life. LeCarre takes the reader back to late-60's Berlin, where Mundy and Sasha meet as students, forging a friendship based in anti-establishment and anti-war idealism. Fast-forward a decade, where we find Mundy and Sasha drones of the very bureaucracies they once despised. Mundy serves as a British Council official dealing with cultural exchanges to Eastern Europe, while Sasha holds a position in the East German Communist regime. Disillusioned by the differences between the communism of theory and the Communism of the Soviet Bloc, Sasha begins spying on the Eastern Bloc for the west.
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful By L. M. Lemieux on July 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I actually think this book is as good as "lord jim" by joseph conrad. I loved le carre when he was conservative. I love him now when he seems to have moved left. I love him because he knows how to make you care for a character a lot, and then, without compunction, destroys that character.

The people who hate this book seem to hate it because they disagree with its politics. That's like me saying the bible is a stupid book because I don't believe in Jesus. this is brilliantly written, and yes, the ending is VERY believable. the exact same thing happened in Germany to convince the Germans they were under threat. IF you don't study history you're bound to repeat it, as they say. I was blown away by this fantastic coup. Keep up the good work, mr. Le Carre.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Stephanie De Pue VINE VOICE on February 19, 2008
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"Absolute Friends," a 2003 publication by renowned British spy author John LeCarre, is considered by many reviewers to be one of his greatest works. It surely is passionate, powerful, and well-written. It concerns the hapless Ted Mundy, whom we meet working as a tourist guide in southern Germany. He has been a spy for the U.K. during the great glory days of the Cold War; when the notorious cinder-block wall divided East from West Berlin, and the city was thick with spooks. He has honors and awards; but then the wall came down, East and West Germany reunited, somewhat unexpectedly, and he and friends were out of jobs. The Pakistan-born son of an unreliable, irresponsible, heavy-drinking British Army officer and an Irish nanny has, since then, tried to write, without success. He's also tried his hand at business, without success. Ditto, marriage. So we now find him grubbing a bare living, trying to support a beautiful, former prostitute common-law Turkish wife and son. We are, apparently, to believe that he's the sort who loves not wisely, but too well; though readers may fail to see anything in his background that would make him such a person.

At any rate, Mundy has knocked around, Asia, Europe, even America. He has been caught up in the great student unrest of the 1960s, particularly in Germany, where he had gone to study. He has made a lifelong friend of Sasha, a crippled East German leftwing activist: for many years, they've had an enjoyable, exciting, profitable game playing spy and counterspy for their respective governments. But the glory days are long gone when Sasha reenters Mundy's life, bringing the mysterious, billionaire philanthropist Dimitri with him. Will the friends make a killing or get themselves killed?
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