The following exchange is from yesterday’s Twitter: The cleverly named Anon Y Mouse: “Jesus, It is exactly like a John Le Carre novel. Money launderers. Villas buy the beach. Deep moles. Russian mafia.” My response at the time: “Le Carre wasn’t “making it up”. He was cluing us in through the medium of great fiction. It is like a Le Carre novel.”
John Le Carre worked as a British intelligence officer for both M15 and M16. He grew up with a father who operated as a conman. As such, he developed an extraordinary ability to observe and a highly developed antenna for separating what is real from the bull shit society prepares for our benefit. His experience and exceptional writing skills combine in one of our great living writers. And he self-evidently uses his novels to inform us about who we are and what is going on.
So, if you want to understand the world of global oligarchs, the world of Kochs, and Mercers, and Putins, and Trumps, you could read Jane Mayer at The New Yorker explaining the octopus of dark money, or you could read Carole Cadwalladr at The Guardian exposing Cambridge Analytica, or you can enter the world of oligarchs more directly in Le Carre’s The Night Manager. (I like the British miniseries with Tom Hiddleston too.) Or maybe you are interested in the hypocrisy of governments and the pernicious influence of the military industrial complex. What happened to the intelligence community after the fall of the Wall? Read Le Carre’s Absolute Friends, as depressing and hard nailed as it gets. It’s what we are dealing with.
While I’m extolling great writing – what is a better way to spend your time than with a great book? – I also recommend Joseph Kanon and Alan Furst. Both write a historical fiction not unlike some of Le Carre’s works. Furst mines Europe in the late thirties and early forties under Hitler – often in Paris or eastern Europe – and the resistance in its many forms. Joseph Kanon writes for a just post war period, and is perhaps even more geographically disperse, setting in Cold War Istanbul or Moscow. Both novelists do an exceptional job of creating atmosphere, evoking the paranoia, and the courage, and the everyday efforts to impose normalcy on the unthinkable. Great stuff. Read Kanon’s latest, The Defectors, which channels a bit of the feel of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold in evoking Moscow and the intelligence community at the height of the Cold War.
One more book, really top notch. Read the nonfiction Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. Grann details an ugly Americana most of us seem determined to forget, the systematic mistreatment of native Americans. Killers of the Flower Moon tells what happened when the Osage Indians were forced onto a reservation in Oklahoma that turned out to contain extraordinarily rich oil fields. Maybe you’ve read Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost about the exploitation and abuse in the Congo. Maybe you didn’t know our own version of exploitation happened here in the twentieth century.