Tuesday, 15 May 2007
On my recent trip to Bangalore (on which I propose to write soon), I came across a bookshop on M.G. Road which was selling some books at a discount. Lucky me, and couldn't stop myself from picking up three books, much to the chagrin of my father ("Have you come to Bangalore to buy books???!!!"). One of the books was Absolute Friends by John le Carre of The Constant Gardener fame. And I don't think I will ever regret it.
The timeline of this novel is quite vast, and the story writing unlike any spy novel I have read so far. Its a tale of loyalty, betrayal, and international espionage that spans the lives of two friends from the riot-torn West Berlin of the 1960's to the grimy Cold War Europe to the present day of terrorism. There's even an sprinkling of India-Pakistan Partition in the beginning, as the main protagonist Ted Mundy was born in Lahore (where his father was an officer in the British Indian Army) and left Pakistan only in 1956.
This is le Carre is his finest form. The anger, the disappointments run cold and clear. The pacing of the story is sharp, with an irresistible snap, the wry social observation is bite and the background knife-play deadly. But I think the greatest thing in this novel is that he shows us without sentimentality or self-righteousness that a deeply moving, deeply personal story can be alloyed with a powerful political argument and that a single novel can express both an immediate sense of grievance and the melancholy perspective of an old man looking back on a long life lived in a tragic, tumultuous century.
The few tears at the ending are a fitting tribute to the memory of Ted Mundy and his absolute friend Sasha.