John le Carré is undisputedly the master of the "unromantic" spy novel. He tackles serious world issues, and his mission is to raise the consciousnesses of readers in order to unmask what he perceives as geopolitical disasters. His oeuvre is further enhanced by the publication of his nineteenth book, ABSOLUTE FRIENDS. Readers will be reminded that, yes, he was a spy in Germany from 1959 to 1964. Fans who have read his work will find a pattern that he has honed, refined, shaped and re-shaped from his experiences and observations during those years and following, which became the foundation for the bulwark of his fiction.
He has turned those experiences into an extraordinary body of work that chronicles the Cold War, the building of the Berlin Wall, the United States' role in Panama, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the break-up of the USSR, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq, the evils of Al Qaeda, and a host of other pivotal events in contemporary history. At the same time he explores the workings of the minds of the men and women who find themselves working in countries where they use false names, lose their personal identity and often betray their own integrity. In ABSOLUTE FRIENDS le Carré takes a worldview that leads him to the conclusion that ..."There's a new Grand Design about ... it's called preemptive naiveté, and it rests on the assumption that everyone in the world would like to live in Dayton, Ohio, under one god, no prizes guessing whose god that is."
Clearly, the books le Carré writes are far superior to the ordinary fare usually found in this genre --- those stories that are usually crafted around a single problem for a cardboard hero to solve. le Carré's novels are wholly different and stand as literary pieces of spy drama. Recently, in an interview with the New York Times, he explained, "The purpose of the story is to tell a fable, to illustrate the dangers of what [Britain and the U.S. have committed to:] a virtual crusade in which we're exporting democracy by military means. ABSOLUTE FRIENDS did not just pop out of a box but came quite naturally from the other books, the source of my despair is that of somebody who was engaged in the cold war seeing everything coming round again. I'm also terribly concerned with how to entertain and tell a story. The comedy in this --- if there is a comedy --- is that the lies that have been distributed are so many and so persistent that arguably fiction is the only way to tell the truth."
ABSOLUTE FRIENDS introduces us to Ted Mundy, an English public school boy who was born in India (now Pakistan), an "innocent" who has held on to his Muslim teachings. He meets Sasha, an anarchistic charismatic guru-like leader of a commune where anything goes. Sasha escaped from East Germany just before the wall was erected and has rejected his past while nurturing a burning hatred for his father, a pastor who may have had Nazi ties. He hates the hypocrisy he sees all around him and believes he can change the world. He trusts no one and has secrets that push him toward chaos. He is a polemicist and political protestor whose ideas and ideals stir feelings in Mundy both personal in his devotion to Sasha and political because he wants to be needed and part of something larger than himself. He trusts Sasha implicitly because he knows that Sasha has a brilliant mind above his deformed body. Over time, these two outsiders become comrades and revolutionaries who are totally committed to each other and their causes.
But nothing in life is easy, and if one wants to change the world, life can be dangerous. When a rally in Germany spirals out of control, Mundy saves Sasha's life, even though he knows he will end up in jail. Here, he is at the mercy of his vicious jailers who beat him continuously. Sasha intervenes and rescues Ted, who then must leave Germany. With no family or friends except Sasha, he seems to float from country to country, pillar to post, from Taos, New Mexico back to Germany. And during this time, all he receives from Sasha are cryptic letters he doesn't answer.
Ten years pass and Mundy has finally settled down in England. He has a good job with the British Arts Council, a lovely young wife who is a teacher, and they have a child on the way. His position involves international travel, and during a five-week trip that is scheduled to end in East Germany, he is shocked when Sasha appears out of nowhere. Before he has time to think, Ted is smuggling a Polish boy out of Eastern Europe. He is carrying a stash of information and can tell no one that he has been co-opted into becoming a spy for the Anglos (maybe --- who knows who is really behind the orders he is given?) In less than twenty-four hours, Sasha has reinvented Mundy's life and put everything Ted has