Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

I just finished this short novel by John le Carre, the one that put him on the spy novelist map.  le Carre was himself a British spy during the Cold War.  Most of the novel takes place in Germany and in England.  le Carre has deep insight into the human condition and moral psychology, though his view seems rather bleak.  There is also a bit of social commentary on the U.S.S.R as well.

Excerpt (no spoilers):

   "Why don't you eat?" the [communist] woman asked again.  "It's all over now."  She said this without compassion, as if the girl were a fool not to eat when the food was there.
   "I'm not hungry."
The wardress shrugged: "You may have a long journey," she observed, "and not much the other end."
   "What do you mean?"
   "The workers are starving in England," she declared complacently. "The capitalists let them starve."
   Liz thought of saying something but there seemed no point.  Besides, she wanted to know; she had to know, and this woman could tell her.
   "What is this place?"
   "Don't you know?" the wardress laughed. "You should ask them over there," she nodded towards the window.  "They can tell you what it is."
   "Who are they?"
   "What kind of prisoners?"
   "Enemies of the state," she replied promptly. "Spies, agitators."
   "How do you know they are spies?"
   "The Party knows.  The Party knows more about people than they know themselves.  Haven't you been told that?"  The wardress looked at her, shook her head and observed, "The English!  The rich have eaten your future and your poor have given them the food--that's what's happened to the English."
   "Who told you that?"
   The woman smiled and said nothing.  She seemed pleased with herself.
   "And this prison is for spies?" Liz persisted.
   "It is a prison for those who fail to recognise Socialist reality; for those who think they have the right to err; for those who slow down the march.  Traitors," she concluded briefly.
   "But what have they done?"
   "We cannot build Communism without doing away with individualism.  You cannot plan a great building if some swine builds his sty on your site."
Liz [herself a communist in England] looked at her in astonishment.
   "Who told you this?"
   "I am Commissar here," she said proudly, "I work in the prison."
   "You are very clever," Liz observed, approaching her.
   "I am a worker," the woman replied acidly. "The concept of brain workers as a higher category must be destroyed.  There are no categories, only workers; no antithesis between physical and mental labour.  Haven't you read Lenin?"

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