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Tag: mysteries

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré

I’ve been slowly rereading all the Smiley novels by John le Carré. I first started reading them in college, so decades ago, and I reread them all a couple of times after that, but my more recent le Carré reading has been limited to the post-Smiley books, e.g., The Tailor of Panama, A Perfect Spy, and The Night Manager. When he brought back Smiley in A Legacy of Spies a couple of years ago, I realized that I didn’t want to read it until I had Smiley firmly fixed in my head again. I don’t like glomming authors anymore because it makes me too aware of their tics and lessens my reading pleasure. So Legacy languishes on my bookshelf while I make my way through the decades.

I took a good-sized break between A Small Town in Germany and TTSS, but then once I picked up the latter I read it in less than a week. My memory of reading it is patchy. I remembered the Big Reveal, of course, and Smiley and Ann’s estrangement, and Connie Sachs stuck in my head. But despite having seen the miniseries twice and the recent film, that was about it. In earlier readings, including rereads, I would often get lost in the puzzles. The first time I read it I was speeding through to find out what happened. The next times were slower, but I would still miss things.

This time, though, I had the almost perfect reading experience. I had a sense of familiarity as every character appeared on the stage, and I followed every twist and turn. It’s a fantastic story. Le Carré based it on the Cambridge Five, and his mole, Gerald, very much resembles them. We know from almost the beginning that Gerald is someone high up in the Circus (the spy agency, named that because it’s located at Cambridge Circus in London). The question is, which one of the handful of top men is he? Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Beggarman, or someone else?

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Mini-reviews of recent reads

I just finished two very different translated novels, one a literary novel by a highly acclaimed Chinese writer in exile, the other a police procedural by a bestselling Japanese author of mysteries. I needed the latter to give my brain a rest after the former. I also finished a highly praised novel that didn’t work at all for me. I felt as if I’d read a different book than everyone else.

China Dream by Ma Jian

Ma Jian has been writing novels and nonfiction about Chinese society since the 1980s, and his critical views have led to his books being banned in China and his life in exile in the UK. The title of this book is taken from a speech by the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, who used the term to herald an era of “national rejuvenation” which would lead to China becoming the world’s greatest superpower. Ma Jian explores the costs that this dream imposes on ordinary Chinese people, especially those who are left behind.

Ma Daode is a government official in a regional city who seeks to create a China Dream Device, which will be implanted in all citizens and replace their individual dreams with a collective one of Chinese hegemony. His daily life, however, involves carrying out government policies like the demolition of villages to make way for economic development. Ma Daode is an extreme parody of a corrupt official, one with so many mistresses he can barely keep track of them, who takes bribes from all comers, and who ignores the welfare of the people affected by his actions.

But Ma Daode, who was a young man at the time of the Cultural Revolution, is increasingly bedeviled by nightmares of the violence and destruction of that time, in which he was both victim and perpetrator. As the story progresses, the past and the present become fused together for him, and no amount of sex and alcohol can suppress his torment.

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