John Le Carre, the Cold War spy story spinner, dies aged 89

John le Carre, whose real name was David Cornwell, defined the Cold War spy thriller in the subtle, all-too-human characters of George Smiley and Karla. He wrote 25 novels and one memoir in six decades and sold 60 million books worldwide.

His first book was Call for the Dead, published in 1961. But it was the phenomenal success of his third, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, that cut short his career in MI6, the British secret service, and was soon by Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and many others featuring those inimitable characters. Alex Guinness portrayed Smiley on one of the films based on his novels.

In the early 1980s, Cornwall made a trip to the Middle East for “enlightenment” on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He confessed in 1998, in an exceptionally perceptive interview with the Jewish World Review’s Douglas Davis: “Israel rocked me to my boots,…by “the most extraordinary carnival of human variety that I have ever set eyes on, a nation in the process of re-assembling itself from the shards of its past.”

On the accusations of antisemitism leveled against him in some American Jewish quarters for the ambiguity of some of his Jewish characters, he explained to his interviewer:  “In my perception of the Jewish identity — in my continuing dialogue with it, in private and in my novels — I have been aware from early on of a spiritual kinship that embraces what is creative in me, and forgives what is despicable, and shares with me the dignity and solitude and anger that are born of alienation.

“It is a sheer fluke,” said Le Carre, “that Smiley himself is not a Jew.” And then: “Perhaps he is.”

Cornwall concluded: “Take me back to Israel, I thought, where I can speak my mind without fear.”

 

 

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