John le Carre′s Cold War spy George Smiley returns | Books | DW | 08.09.2017
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John le Carre's Cold War spy George Smiley returns

George Smiley is back after nearly three decades. John le Carre's legendary spy will hit bookshelves in Germany on October 13. His publishers have concocted a clever marketing strategy for his fans in the meantime.

John le Carre's publishers came up with an innovative way to launch his new book that fans have been eagerly been awaiting. The legendary author read passages from the new novel entitled "A Legacy of Spies" at the Royal Festival Hall in London on September 7, as the event was streamed live to fans in three countries: the UK, Germany and Switzerland.

In Germany and Switzerland alone, 27 cinemas took part in the livestream. John le Carre, whose books enjoy a cult following in Germany, will hold another book reading event at Hamburg's recently inaugurated Elbphilharmonie concert and event hall when his new novel is published in Germany next month.

Who is George Smiley?

Seeing John le Carre in the flesh — whether by livestream or in Hamburg on October 15 — is a striking experience. With his snow-white hair combed back, the gentleman author of spy literature leaves quite an impression as he proves that his persona is just as entertaining as his books.

John Le Carré 1965 (picture-alliance/Everett Collection)

John le Carre worked as an intelligence officer himself in his younger days, retiring from official duty in 1961. Above, the author in 1965.

The global book reading event from London highlighted not only entire paragraphs from the new spy novel but also interspersed the fictional passages with anecdotes from the life of the 85-year-old author.

The character of George Smiley has, after all, accompanied le Carre's stellar career from the beginning. Since 1961, five of le Carre's novels have featured the British intelligence officer, such as "Call for the Dead," "A Murder of Quality," and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy."

John le Carre knows the secrets of the spy trade

Le Carre stressed that the real work of a career spy is usually miles away from the romanticized narratives of his books. Having worked as an intelligence officer in Her Majesty's service, the spy-cum-author says that he has had enough opportunities to compare fact with fiction and to draw inspiration from some of the real-life cases he observed.

A Legacy of Spies by John le Carré (Viking )

Die-hard fans have had to wait for nearly three decades for George Smiley's return

Over the years, he has also traveled to many conflict zones around the globe, always drawing ideas for his novels. From Vietnam to Cambodia, Russia to the Congo, le Carré got to meet some of the most powerful players in contemporary history, such as the Palestinian political leader Yasser Arafat.

To actually write his spy stories, however, le Carre said he prefers to retreat to his home in Cornwall, where he has been living since retiring from official duties in 1964.

Affinity for the German language

Despite being streamed in Germany and Switzerland, the event took place entirely in English. This may not be the case next month when the writer comes to Hamburg, as he is a keen student of the German language.

Not only did le Carre study German at Oxford University, but he also applied his linguistic skills while working as a spy during the Cold War. He even taught German at a college in southern England for two years.

His passion for German culture is reflected in his books: the character of George Smiley is renowned for his affinity for German baroque music as well as the literature of Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse.

Goodbye, Smiley

John le Carre explains, however, that "A Legacy of Spies" will bring the story of George Smiley to a final conclusion. The new novel takes Smiley back to the days of the Cold War — the era of le Carre's own experience as a spy — much to his fans' delight.

Le Carre still spends a lot of time focusing on the Cold War. He laments that the fall of the Berlin Wall created a series of missed opportunities that are still reverberating throughout the world. He also said that much of the warmongering happening today can be seen as a direct result of rise fascism throughout the world, which he traced to a political leadership vacuum following the end of the Cold War.

According to John le Carre, the state of the world today is comparable to that in the 1930s. And this, he said, is fact and not fiction.

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