Monday, February 12, 2007

Secret Lovers

You've probably seen the story that the CIA had a hand in getting Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago published. The CIA didn't push the Nobel Committee to award the prize to Pasternak, but helped the book jump some hurdles to being available for the award. If you have read the book or seen the film, it embarrassed the Soviet leadership with its depiction of life under the Red Banner.

This was in the back of my head as I started the wonderful Secret Lovers by Charles McCarry. The novel was written by ex-CIA operative McCarry in the mid-70s and is set in 1960. The story concerns a CIA team that is working to publish a Soviet dissident's novel in both Russian and French so they can humiliate the Soviet regime. Looks like McCarry's experience may have played a hand in this one.

One of the joys of reading is discovering an author all of whose books you immediately want to read. Doing this would have been difficult as most his books were long out of print. Overlook Press has been re-publishing them, although so far only in hardcover I think. If you pine for Cold War novels that equal or surpass the Nazi era books of Alan Furst, you need to find one of these. This interview with McCarry is excellent. It's lengthy, filled with detail on the books and life in the CIA. Like me, he adores the spy short stories of Maugham:

I am a great admirer of Somerset Maugham. His Ashendon stories are the very best writing about the actuality of intelligence work ever. And also I like the directness, the way he approaches the subject. Of Human Bondage, for example, published in 1915, pretty much was the first modern novel. Maugham said, “I wanted to send a long telegram to the reader.” And the telegraphic stylists who followed, Hemingway being the primary example, absorbed that clearly. Because no one had written like that before, that I know about. And I also liked his cynicism, or what was mistaken for his cynicism, [which] I think actually was a kind of realistic full-hearted acceptance of human nature.

No comments: