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170 of 180 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First rate!
I have long been a fan of Robert Harris and was pleased to be given this novel as a birthday present. I devoured it in a couple of (longish) sittings. I recall studying the Dreyfus affair at school but these were hazy recollections at best. Having read the novel I am now seeking out a good non-fiction book on the topic so that I have a better appreciation of how well...
Published 14 months ago by D. P. Mankin

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slow plodding tale
The story is based on a real story and I really really wanted to like it, but I couldn't. I had no empathy for the main character I just couldn't believe he was a real character. The story itself does not move with any pace, it plods along and has nothing to make you care if the plot is discovered or not. All in all a slow moving tale that could have been so, so much...
Published 4 months ago by JimmyG

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170 of 180 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First rate!, 27 Sep 2013
D. P. Mankin (Ceredigion, Wales) - See all my reviews
This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Hardcover)
I have long been a fan of Robert Harris and was pleased to be given this novel as a birthday present. I devoured it in a couple of (longish) sittings. I recall studying the Dreyfus affair at school but these were hazy recollections at best. Having read the novel I am now seeking out a good non-fiction book on the topic so that I have a better appreciation of how well Robert Harris has integrated fact with fiction. The novel is revelatory in terms of demonstrating through fiction the lengths governments will go to in order to conceal the truth. Dreyfus was, to put it succintly, fitted up. As the author has shown in previous novels he is adept at (a) evoking a period setting, (b) creating well rounded characters like the central protaganist here, Colonel Georges Picquar, through whose eyes the story unfolds, and (c) making political machinations seem totally believable (and you only have to look at some of the more recent political scandals in the UK to draw certain parallels to those in this novel). The author's prose style is as fluent as ever, plotting is handled superbly, and the whole story rattles along. What really shines through the fiction is the author's obvious fascination with this famous French scandal. Highly recommended.
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63 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Triumphant return to top form for Robert Harris, 26 Nov 2013
I have always enjoyed Robert Harris's books immensely, although I did feel he had "gone off the boil" a bit with his later ones. I did not particularly enjoy the two Roman ones, and felt that both The Ghost and The Fear Index were inferior to his earlier, cracking thrillers based around real events. My husband pre-ordered this book and read it obssessively on holiday, and I snatched it from him the minute he'd finished it.

We'd both read the various reviews, which served to act as a reminder about the politics and progression of L'Affaire Dreyfus - like most reviewers, we had a reasonable idea of the episode in outline, rather than the detail. One thing I was unaware of was quite how long it dragged on and how the French General Staff perpetrated almost any untruths rather than admit they were wrong. It did seem to resonate with some current affairs, but it was truly anchored in the late 19th Century, and did not attempt to view it in the light of the 21st. It was still breathtaking in its outrage, however and totally absorbing. The huge cast of characters were so well defined and described and the appalling dirty tricks were as thrilling as any fiction - and at times almost more extreme than could reasonably be imagined. The fact that Dreyfus was not a particularly likeable character, and his defendant Picquart admitted to not caring for him personally, made it all the more astonishing that Picquart was prepared to risk his career in his cause. I found it ironic that one of the things held against Dreyfus was that he was from Mulhouse (in Alsace Lorraine), spoke French with a German accent and his wealth came from Germany, whilst the majority of the Intelligence staff in the book (Picquart included) were also from Alsace(annexed by the Germans post 1870), and all burned with a consequent hatred of Germany.

Despite the outcome being known, I literally could not put this book down, and enjoyed looking up the various protagonists on Wikipedia (unlike some reviewers I did not find this impeded my enjoyment in any way.) The variety of magnificent - and in some cases downright ridiculous - moustaches on view somehow seemed to reflect the self-regard and stubborness of the French General Staff, who refused to admit their errors and machinations even when international interest was aroused. This is a book for anyone who is interested in 19th Century history, as well as Robert Harris fans.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical fiction in one of its best editions, 21 Feb 2014
Denis Vukosav - See all my reviews
This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Paperback)
“An Officer and a Spy” written by Robert Harris who attracted worldwide public attention with his novel ‘Fatherland’, is a great historical fiction, which tells the less known story of Dreyfus affair that at the end of the 19th and beginning of 20th century divided France and led it to the brink of civil war.

The novel main character Georges Picquart works in French Army Statistical Section, he’s smart recently promoted leader of the counterespionage intelligence unit responsible for Dreyfus exposure as German spy that organized his trial. Alfred Dreyfus was a young Jewish officer, who due to treason conviction was sentenced to life imprisonment at Devil’s Island, while his rank was humiliatingly taken away from him in front of mob crowd of twenty thousand persons which shouted “Death to the Jew!”

Georges Picquart will begin to explore some clues that have emerged in this case, recognizing from the start that things are not exactly like they were presented by government and that obviously something or someone else is behind the accusations that Dreyfus was exposed to and due to which his life was ruined. He will start suspecting that there is still a spy in the French military and that wrong man was accused.

The story is incredibly realistic and reader will many times ask herself/himself if all those things could really happen to this unfortunate man, but to the novel main character as well, who only tries to get to the truth. And while his investigation becomes more complicated, offering only new questions rather than answers, Picquart will start questioning not only the Dreyfus verdict but also his own beliefs, his faith in the French people and the government to which he serves…

“An Officer and a Spy” is a story about the Dreyfus affair, which is not so well known in the rest of the world, and shows a remarkable fact that the anti-Semitic movement was particularly strong in France just before the First World War. On the other hand is amazing that a Jew was accused of helping the Germans forty years before the terrible harm that will be done to Dreyfus people by this same nation.

The affair that took place between 1894 and 1906 is universally seen as a symbol of injustice, being one of the most known examples of unjust accusations where the major parts were played by public opinion and media. In the end, all the accusations against Alfred Dreyfus will prove unfounded and in 1906 Alfred Dreyfus was reinstated in the French Army where he served during the whole of First World War. Dreyfus affair divided whole France, almost leading to the brink of civil war, and one of the most prominent supporters of Alfred Dreyfus was the known writer Émile Zola who took lot of credit that for the Dreyfus accusations rejection.

Robert Harris with this novel once again proved as one of the best historical fiction writer who created compelling characters resulting in his book, despite the length of over 400 pages, is easy to read almost without stopping, even though we know how it will end. Therefore, his great book can certainly be recommended to all those who loved ‘Fatherland’ and Harris style in general, because his latest work “An Officer and a Spy” is a very thrilling and well-written title.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb historical fiction, 17 Jun 2014
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I've enjoyed Harris's books in the past, but none so much as this. The sense of time and place is vivid, and the subtly moving viewpoint of the protagonist engages from start to finish.

Whether you already know something of the Dreyfus Affair or not, this is a real treat; the last historical novel I enjoyed as much was Hilary Mantel's Place Of Greater Safety.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I felt wiser after reading it, 1 July 2014
hfffoman (Kent) - See all my reviews
This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Paperback)
What most struck me about this book is that while the scale of the conspiracy was breathtaking, most of the characters were unremarkable. There was nothing particular about the French military personnel 120 years ago to make them more prone to dishonesty than the personnel in any other military, or church or bank, or newspaper. Given the right cocktail of circumstances people with power will behave in extraordinary ways. Extraordinarily good as well as extraordinarily bad. I felt slightly wiser after reading it.

I also recommend it as an extremely entertaining read. I already knew the story in some detail and still found the book fascinating all the way.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent telling of a true story..., 27 Aug 2014
This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Paperback)
This is an excellent book that is well researched and well written in equal measure.

I felt the early part of the book was a bit of a slog as the reader was (naturally) introduced to the key characters, but once that hurdle is overcome, we are presented with a well thought out novel which tells the true story of one of France's darkest days.

Praise for the author is well-deserved as Harris has constructed a comprehensive narrative of those events. This is a long book, but you never feel overwhelmed and I finished the book wanting to know more about this true story

Overall, this is an excellent book that deserves the acclaim it receives
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Un-put-downable, 3 Sep 2014
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Terrific book. I found myself staying up reading till 4am as I could not wait to find out what happened next.
Harris is a fine writer, and all his books are based on real moments in history which he researches meticulously. This means he has the ability to transport you to another time and place, and the talent to immerse you in it. This is a big fat book, but never for a moment dull, so hugely satisfying. Even if you have some familiarity with the Dreyfuss case - which is at the centre of the story - you will be gripped by the twists, turns and wonderfully-drawn characters as this immense saga unwinds. First class.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An officer and spy., 7 Oct 2014
R. Gardner "Corriebob" (Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This story is based on true events and you get more than just a feeling that it has been extremely well researched, It's about the miss use of power and covering your own tracks for your own ends. One man against a lot of senior officers who are looking for a scape goat. you will find that all the emotions are there as the person who has been maligned tries to find out the truth and then has to battle the establishment. I found that I couldn't put it down once under way. a court room section as well near the end. very well written, maybe not for everyone but I think most will enjoy..
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5.0 out of 5 stars "Today the press is Dreyfus, Dreyfus, Dreyfus; tomorrow, without some new disclosure, they'll have forgotten all about him...", 26 Nov 2014
This review is from: An Officer and a Spy (Paperback)
Robert Harris is famous for a number of historical novels, the only one of which I'd previously read being the bestselling Fatherland - a detective story that takes place in an alternate historical setting in which Nazi Germany has won the Second World War. Fatherland is an exciting, well-written novel that I immensely enjoyed reading but I have to say that An Officer and a Spy is even better as it gives Harris the opportunity to fully utilise his amazing ability to create fascinating characters and illustrate complex historical events in an interesting but at the same time informative way.

An Officer and a Spy is told through the viewpoint of Marie-Georges Picquart, a French officer who is involved with the investigation of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish artillery officer of the French Army from the region of Alsace who was convicted on charges of treason in 1894. Early on in the novel Harris deploys his ability to use metaphor and crisp prose to create an excellent sense of place, which I believe the following passage clearly demonstrates:

"The police line bulged, tautened and then burst apart, releasing a flood of protesters, who poured across the pavement and spread along the railings. Dreyfus stopped, turned and faced them, raised him arms and said something. But he had his back tomorrow and I couldn't hear his words, only the familiar taunts of "Judas!", "Traitor!" and "Death to the Jew" that were thrown back in his face.
An instant later the order was given for the parade to march past. The stamp of boots seemed to shake the ground. Bugles were blown. Drums beat time. As the band struck up "Sambre-et-Meuse" it started to snow. I felt a great sense of release. I believe we all did. Spontaneously we turned to one another and shook hands. It was as if a healthy body had purged itself of something foul and pestilential, and now life could begin anew."

Picquart is an apt choice for a character through which to tell the story as, just like Dreyfus, he was an exile of the French region of Alsace that was taken over by the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, which redefined the balance of power in Europe and caused great suffering to many refugees who were forced to leave their homes and move elsewhere in France:

"I was sixteen when the Germans shelled Strasbourg, thus kindly enabling me to witness at first hand an event that we teach at the Écoles Supérieure de Guerre as 'the first full-scale use of modern artillery specifically to reduce a civilian population.' I watched the city's art gallery and library burn to the ground, saw neighbourhoods blown to pieces, knelt beside friends as they died, helped dig strangers out of the rubble. After nine weeks the garrison surrended. We were offered a choice between staying put and becoming German or giving up everything and moving to France. We arrived in Paris destitute and shorn of all of illusions about the security of our civilised life."

The novel successfully illustrates the horrific impact that the Franco-Prussian War had on the French people. This conflict resulted in the German annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, the fall of Napoleon III and the establishment of the Third French Republic. The establishment of the German Empire, which became the most powerful state in central Europe, led to the development of an almost pathological fear of potential German aggression in France, which was strongly linked to the ease with which the Germans had defeated the French Army, as well as the significant numerical advantage that the new unified German state had over France. This fear was accompannied by French revanchism, rooted in the desire of nationalists to reclaim what Alsace-Lorraine, which they believed was naturally French territory. These circumstances partly explain why the French establishment decided to punish Dreyfus severely by exiling him to the penal colony of Devil's Island and placing him in dreadful living conditions:

"The exchange with Blanche unsettles me very slightly. The tiniest speck of - no, I shall not call it doubt, exactly - let us say curiosity lodges in my mind, and not so much Dreyfus's guilt as his punishment. Why, I ask myself, do we persist in this absurd and expensive rigmarole of imprisonment, which requires four or five guards to be stranded with him in silence on his tiny island? What is our policy? How many ours of bureaucratic time - including mine - are to be tied up in the endless administration, surveillance and censorship his punishment entails?
Gradually over the winter I discern that we do in fact have a policy with regard to Dreyfus, it has simply never been explained to me in so many words, either verbally or on paper. We are waiting for him to die."

Picquart is rewarded for his involvement in the Dreyfus case by a promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel and the position of head of the Statistical Section, France's top secret military intelligence department. During his tenure at the department, Picquart comes across evidence that there may be another mole in the French Army and that Dreyfus may not have been guilty of espionage. Yet his attempts to share his suspicions with the other officers involved in the case are fruitless, as the exchange underneath demonstrates:

"'Personally I suspected that brother of his, Mathieu. So did Sandherr, as a matter of fact.'
'But Mathieu wasn't in the army at the time.'
'But Mathieu wasn't in the army at the time. He wasn't even in Paris.'
'No,' replies du Paty with great signifiance, 'but he was in Germany. And he's a Jew.'"

This exchange reveals another important issue in the affair - Dreyfus's ethnicity. It may seem shocking today but in the late 19th century there was a strong current of anti-Semitism in France. In fact, even the novel's narrator, Picquart, is anti-Semitic to some degree but this issue is skirted over as there are only a number of occasions on which this issue is mentioned and it is not explored in-depth.

Harris's novel also seems to make points particularly pertinent to life in the contemporary age of mostly digital communication, which allows almost everything that we send to be traced and recorded. He makes a good point that even just over 100 years, secrecy had already become something difficult to protect:

"There is no such thing as a secret--not really, not in the modern world, not with photography and telegraphy and railways and newspaper presses. The old days of an inner circle of like-minded souls communicating with parchment and quill pens is gone. Sooner or later most things will be revealed. That is what I have been attempting to make Gonse understand."

As Picquart acquires more and more evidence that Dreyfus may not be guilty, he decides to report to his superiors in the hope that they will take action. However, he is given to understand that reopening this issue would have a catastrophic impact on French society and that Dreyfus must be sacrificed for the greater good of the nation:

"Let's face it, dear Picquart: the investigation into Dreyfus was not handled as profesionally as it should have been. Sandherr was a sick man, and du Paty - well, we all know what Armand is like, despite his many fine qualities. But we have to proceed from where we are, and really we can't go back over it all again. It would reopen too many wounds. You've seen the press these past few days, the potential hysteria there is about Dreyfus. It would tear the country apart. We just have to shut it down. You must understand that, surely?'"

Picquart's superiors advise him to drop the entire case and accept the fact that Dreyfus will eventually be forgotten, if no one decides to stir the hornet's nest. This situation is reminiscent of today's world in which scandals about government corruption, gross negligence or great injustice are not infrequent but they often simply fall off the agenda of the day as fatigue sets in and other striking news takes their place:

"He offers me his hand. His grip is dry, hard, calloused. He clamps his other hand around mine, imprisoning it. 'There's nothing easy about power, Georges. One needs the stomach to make hard decisions. But I've seen all this before. Today the press is Dreyfus, Dreyfus, Dreyfus; tomorrow, without some new disclosure, they'll have forgotten all about him, you'll see.'"

Picquart, however, is a man of honour who is not willing to give up even if all of his superiors are against him. He contemplates taking this matter all the way to the top of the republic's hierarchy but eventually comes to realise that the entire political establishment stands in firm support of the army, which it considers to be the firm foundation on which the nation stands:

"For a few days I consider appealing directly to the President, but then I read his latest speech, delivered in the presence of General Billot - The army is the nation's heart and soul, the mirror in which France perceives the most ideal image of her self-denial and patriotism; the army holds the first place in the thoughts of the government and in the pride of the nation - and I realise that he would never take up arms on behalf of a despised Jew against 'the nation's heart and soul.'"

Eventually, however, things get out of hand and news is leaked to the press about the particulars of the Dreyfus case. Picquart is hounded by his superiors and he eventually joins forces with some of the most formidable figures of the Republic in the crusade to free Dreyfus:

"There is a moment of silence and then one of the men - bald-headed and with a heavy drooping moustache, whom I recognise as Georges Clemenceau, the left-wing politician and editor of the radical newspaper L'Aurore - starts a round of clapping in which everyone joins. As Louis ushers me into the room, another man, dapper and attractive, calls out cheerfully, 'Bravo Picquart! Vive Picquart!' and I recognise him too, from the surveillance photo that used to cross my desk, as Mathieu Dreyfus. Indeed, as I go round shaking their hands, I find I know all these men by sight or reputation: the publisher Georges Charpentier, whose house this is; the heavily bearded senator for the Seine, Arthur Ranc, the oldest man in the room; Joseph Reinach, a left-wing Jewish member of the Chamber of Deputies; and of course the pudgy figure in pince-nez to whom I am introduced last, Émile Zola."

Although many of you may know how the Dreyfus Affair ends, I nevertheless recommend that you read this novelisation of the case as it offers an exciting story and the opportunity to explore the state of French society at the turn of the 20th century through the viewpoint of an interesting character who makes some very pertinent observations about France, relations between France and Germany, the nature of power and many other matters. Harris has managed to create a plethora of fascinating characters that populate the exciting and, at the same time, frightening world of the Third French Republic and I am confident that anyone, even those with little interest in French history, will enjoy this book. The only minor criticism that I have of the book is that while Harris clearly tells us which historical sources he used in his research, he does not acknowledge any of the liberties that he has taken with the truth. I only realised that Harris had made some significant changes when I read a historical review of the book. However, I suggest that you disregard this issue and allow yourself to be entertained by this magnificent book. After all, if you are interested in the details of the Dreyfus Affair, there are plenty of historical books about it. It's only one of the most notorious cases of injustice in human history.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read, 8 Nov 2014
John Hopper (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This is a superb novel, in my view the author's best since Fatherland. It is a lightly fictionalised story of the notorious affaire Dreyfus, when Alfred Dreyfus, a captain in the French army in 1894, was falsely convicted of passing military secrets to Germany, as a result of which he was sentenced to the notorious Devil's Island prison off the coast of south America. The fact of Dreyfus being Jewish enflamed the passions of anti-semitism rampant in France (and elsewhere) at the time and prevented any chance of the truth being recognised for years. The novel centres around the efforts by Colonel Picquart, the head of the misleadingly named Statistics Section (but really an intelligence unit), to uncover the flimsiness of the evidence against Dreyfus and uncover the real culprit, Major Esterhazy. In doing so, Picquart has to defy the attempts not only by his superior Generals and the Minister of War, but also by his brother officers and junior staff, to cover up the miscarriage of justice, including by forging evidence against Dreyfus. In many ways the whole tragic saga is a textbook example of how an Establishment, in this case the French Army, can close ranks, not in this case to protect an individual, but in order to ensure that its reputation is not tarnished by having to admit that Dreyfus was innocent. In the end, of course, the exposure of the tragically farcical lengths to which the French Army has gone, backed by many politicians and a hysterical anti-semitic press campaign, subjects leading generals and the Army's own reputation to far greater ignominy than would have been the case otherwise. Dreyfus was pardoned in 1900 and fully exonerated in 1906, but the case sharply divided French society, and it is arguable that the ease with which anti-semitism revived itself in France in the late 1930s and under the Occupation owed a lot to the desire of the extreme anti-Dreyfusards to exact revenge. A great page turning novel, almost the only fictionalisations being the inclusion of a romantic interest for Picquart and the inevitable telescoping of some events and minor characters.
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An Officer and a Spy
An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris (Paperback - 8 May 2014)
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