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The Tailor of Panama Paperback – International Edition, September 30, 2008

3.4 out of 5 stars 89 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

John le Carré, the greatest spy novelist of the Cold War era, continues his post-Cold War quest to define the genre he helped perfect. The classic spy novel was essentially a story of good (England, the United States) vs. evil (Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union), in which good more or less prevailed. The Tailor of Panama is something else entirely: a spy novel with no spies in which the bad guys reap most of the rewards. It is also a viciously funny satire. The novel is set in Panama, where a plot is in place to make void the Panama Treaty, which would return control of the Panama Canal to the Panamanians in 1999. At the center of events is Harry Pendel, the tailor of the title. Coerced into working for British Intelligence, he concocts out of whole cloth a left-wing movement with the goal of luring the American military to do the dirty work--invade Panama à la 1989 and nullify the treaty. From the characters to the setting, le Carré has succeeded in setting new parameters for an old genre. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

The many and various talents of le Carr‚ give this new audio version of his 1996 novel more than enough reasons for approval. Most obvious is the fact that he is a wonderful reader a natural, honest storyteller and artful actor who can command our attention and hold it long after others might lose their grip. In just a few minutes, he brings to life a large gallery of diverse characters: an upper-class narrator; a British tailor, Harry Pendel, who can't quite hide his East End Jewish, ex-convict roots; his American wife, Louisa, who pulses with do-gooder zeal; a Panamanian soldier whose English is limited to one phrase; a Panamanian banker who oozes hypocrisy; the Cockney ghost of Harry's crooked old uncle; and a rather nasty working-class British spy who threatens to upset Harry's delicately balanced life. Le Carr‚'s superb reading skills also enable listeners to stop and sniff the prose to realize just how good a writer he really is. Based on the Knopf hardcover.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Canada; Reprint edition (September 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780143169536
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143169536
  • ASIN: 014316953X
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,976,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
i think perhaps many of the reviews here miss the point of this novel. It is not, I agree, Le Carre's best thriller. It is instead a satire, not about Panama, but about the propensity we all have to believe our own lies, and those whose lies justify actions we want to take anyway. It has been said here that he misrepresents Panama while sparing the west(England), also that le Carre is tired and out of ideas since the cold war ended. Far from the truth. His writing style may be slow for those raised on TV, but it has a point. His last 3 novels(Our Game, The Night Manager, and this one) can be seen together as a manysided indictment of the West at the end of the Cold War. They are among his best novels as literature, and should be read not as thrillers, but as examinations of wasted lies, of the arrogance of the West and it's willingness to sacrifice innocents for political and economic conveniences, of the corruption of money at the center of our intitutions at the century's end. Thank you Mr. Le Carre, for doing more than sitting back and gloating on the so called victory of the West.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I read this book for the first time two months ago, and now I've read it again. My second reading was inspired by the fact that I was part way through the book the first time before I realized what an incredible book it was. So I wanted to read it again from the start with a proper sense of appreciation.

"The Tailor of Panama" is purportedly a spy thriller, but the spy story is actually just the framework on which John le Carré weaves his amazing study of human nature. And the human characteristics which are dominant are not ones that the human race should be proud of. We are presented with large amounts of greed, dishonesty, jealousy, cruelty, selfish lust, corruption, apathy, frailty and stupidity. On top of that we are presented with some of the less attractive conditions for human existence: poverty, suffering, guilt and sickness.

But the amazing thing is that John le Carré writes about these human characteristics and conditions with a great deal of humor and understanding. And he does provide a few glimpses of love, altruism and generosity.

So even though the story ends tragically it is for the most part a funny and touching story, and this makes the book very readable.

Another strength of the book is John le Carré's masterful command of the English language. He writes beautiful descriptions, and has a surprising and inventive way with words. I often found myself delighted with one sentence after another, each one saying something in a way I hadn't realized was possible.

The way in which the plot is slowly but surely expanded is also very satisfying. We start out with the daily lives of a few seemingly ordinary people.
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Format: Hardcover
John le Carre is an honorable man. In his acknowledgements, he gives due credit to Graham Greene as follows: "Without GrahamGreene this book would never have come about. After Graham Greene's OUR MAN IN HAVANA the notion of ................ " With that out of the way, THE TAILOR OF PANAMA is pure John le Carre and is his alone. Like most of the better spy genre authors, le Carre had to make some adjustments in theme since the end of the Cold War. In my opinion, he again shows that he is up to the task in THE TAILOR OF PANAMA.
Andy Osnard, "young Mr. Osnard" to his rather pompous, conspiracy minded, Intelligence chief back in London, is posted to the Panamanian Embassy with the express objective of finding a plot to take over the canal when the Americans leave. He rightly understands that he is to find a plot even if none exists. "Young Mr. Osnard," has larceny in his heart and sees this posting as a golden opportunity to get rich.
As his man in Panama, he picks Harry Pendel, gentlemen's tailor to the rich and powerful. Harry is already living a double life. He is actually an ex-convict who learned tailoring in a British prison. He has come to Panama and invented a background for himself that has him being the junior partner of what was once London's finest tailor shop, and who relocated to Panama after the heart-wrenching death of his beloved partner. He has also gotten himself into serious financial difficulties in Panama.
Along comes "young Mr. Osnard" with threats to expose Harry if he refuses to spy on his important clientele. Along with the threats are promises of substantial monetary gain if he cooperates. Harry succumbs to the combination of the stick and the carrot.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
Written with endless wit and some dark humor, Le Carre proves himself again as a master of words as he plots a classic spy story- and the greatness of it is that this is both a spy story and an anti-spy story.

Do no except Tom-Clancy-like-action since this novel is about the humans and not the missiles. Harry Pendel is an anti-hero, a man drowning himself in a sea of lies, lying to the British intelligence- fabricating tales upon tales, lying to his beloved wife, lying to himself. With a multitude of conspiracy fabrications of all sorts, this story almost becomes a wry satire about the spy world.

Panama city and its characters are portrayed in a rich and elegant manner. The dialogues are complicated and brilliant; loaded with so much tidbits of fiction that Le Carre's mind seems to be a bottomless pit of ideas.

I'm sure that many people who expected more action gave it low reviews because of this- explaining the surprisingly low average rating. But the novel is not uneventful, and it contains a cynical plot of intrigue and greed, and some satirical jabs at some imperialistic desires still present in some dark elderly western power holders.

This is literature, subtle, elegant and stylish, humorous and at its best.

And poor pathetic Harry Pendel, with all his weaknesses, is a character as human as can be, and one you can only sympathize with.
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