Absolute Friends

by John Le Carre
ISBN: 067004489X

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A Review of: Absolute Friends
by Des McNally

It seems obvious throughout Absolute Friends that Le Carr was an angry man when he decided to write his latest novel. We owe his anger a debt of gratitude, for it has contributed greatly to this, his very best offering since his earliest writing days. This may even be his best book.
The targets of the author's passionate narrative are dishonest governments that precipitate unnecessary wars and the lengths they the rights of other countries and their citizens.
Ted Mundy, lanky, likeable and decent, born in Pakistan where his father was serving in the army, returns to England in the 1950s where Major Mundy is awash in self-pity and whiskey and, among other things, blames Ted for his mother's death in childbirth. After enduring Public School and broadening his intellectual horizons at Oxford University, Ted decides in the 1960s to attend university in West Berlin where his growing radicalism is encouraged by many of the students, but especially by the other main protagonist Sasha. Born in East Germany, mercurial but lame, short and crooked of stature, Sasha befriends Ted and eventually recruits him into espionage. Ted and Sasha become double agents, working on behalf of their respective countries with courage and honour.
When the Berlin Wall comes down and the Cold War is over, Ted is paid off by British Intelligence. He is thereby enabled to open a school in Heidelberg for teaching advanced English Language. Unfortunately this project ends in failure. Ted faces trouble when his partner absconds with what little cash there is and leaves him to face the creditors.
Sasha, on the other hand, becomes an itinerant university lecturer during the post-Cold War years, traveling throughout the Middle East and Asia, with his radical global mission on hold for the time being.
To avoid unfriendly bankers and their like, Ted moves to Munich where, insolvent, he becomes a tour guide at a castle, occasionally expressing his disappointment in the actions and policies of the government he had served for years. Still, he is happy when he meets and falls in love with Zara, a Muslim, and sets up house with her and her son Mustafa. Ted impresses everyone around him with his compassionate, and caring attitude towards others, especially those in the multi-ethnic community where he resides. But then who should turn up to muddy the waters? It's Sasha, as usual bursting with enthusiasm for a new solution to global inequity, a solution that will also supposedly be the answer to their own precarious financial situations.
The "Guru" to whom Sasha has turned this time is Dimitri, a man with millions of dollars, various names and an unknown ancestry. Dimitri convinces Ted and Sasha to take part in his plan to liberate the impoverished of the world from heartless capitalism.
It's almost as if Le Carr took a long, deep breath, and in exhaling unleashed Dimitri on us. Physically and verbally, Dimitri comes across like a tornado-he's an amazing character. The origin of Dimitri's wealth, and the actual aims of those who contribute to it, trouble Ted, whilst crippled Sasha remains the radical idealist who believes he is working towards the realization of his most cherished dream. Le Carr gives their story an explosive ending, which is at the same time, a powerful, unequivocal pronouncement on the state of world affairs.
I'm convinced that the motivation for this novel is Le Carr's disaffection with his country's government. We are the fortunate beneficiaries as he has produced a story to which the usual laudatory adjectives don't do justice-smart, passionate, dynamic, poignant and gripping will just have to suffice.

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