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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magisterial Summing Up of the War that Was
"The Secret Pilgrim," British spymaster John LeCarre's thirteenth book, was published in 1990, a year after the Berlin Wall was torn down, and the 30-year long Cold War was declared at an end. It was his first published post Cold War novel. LeCarre, who penned the Cold War masterpieces The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; and the Karla trilogy,Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,The...
Published on 17 Feb 2010 by Stephanie De Pue

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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Smiley in Small Doses!
I was given this book as a birthday present, otherwise I probably never would have read it, since I am not a fan of spy fiction (other than the kind that appears in the factual espionage genre). I am very glad, however, that I did read it.

"The Secret Pilgrim" represents the best of both worlds, since it is actually a dozen short stories tied together within...
Published on 4 Sep 2006 by F. S. L'hoir


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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magisterial Summing Up of the War that Was, 17 Feb 2010
By 
Stephanie De Pue (Wilmington, NC USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Secret Pilgrim (Paperback)
"The Secret Pilgrim," British spymaster John LeCarre's thirteenth book, was published in 1990, a year after the Berlin Wall was torn down, and the 30-year long Cold War was declared at an end. It was his first published post Cold War novel. LeCarre, who penned the Cold War masterpieces The Spy Who Came in from the Cold; and the Karla trilogy,Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,The Honourable Schoolboy, and Smiley's People, uses this book, several short stories cobbled together, that begin as the looming Berlin Wall has been up only two years, as a magisterial summing-up of the war that was.

The author sets much of it, as is his long-standing custom, in his German-speaking comfort zone, particularly Berlin, "the spy's eternal city," he calls it. The book is narrated by "Ned," a shrewd and loyal long-term employee of LeCarre's fictional intelligence service, modeled on the real one. Here, as elsewhere, LeCarre calls this service the circus, from its London location. Ned is currently teaching new recruits at Sarratt, its spy school, and contemplating retirement. He's thinking about the secret pilgrimage of his life, spent in the service, wondering, as is typical of the author, what it has gained him, or the world. He invites the "eminence grise" of the circus, George Smiley, to speak to the recruits.

The book is episodic; that may annoy some people. But it has LeCarre's usual writerly virtues, unbeaten spycraft, strong descriptive and narrative writing, complex, if brief, plotlets. Resonant characters and dialogue, a sturdy moral context. It is written in flashback, so the action may be a bit bloodless for some. But it gives an informative summation of the Smiley-Karla years. "Before the fall, " as the circus calls it, when Bill Haydon, its secret counterspy, mole in the terminology LeCarre created, is still burrowing from within. And "after the fall," picking up the pieces. And it offers new views of the circus's great knights: Smiley and his unfaithful wife Ann, Haydon, Peter Guillam, Tobe Esterhase. To Le Carre fans, it's all catnip. We even get an unexpected bonus: Ned is apparently the desk jockey who ran Barley Blair, star of The Russia House: think Sean Connery. Ned reminisces about Blair, "We were trying to do a deal on him, but Barley wouldn't go along with us. He'd done his own deal already. He wanted his girl, not us."

Several of the component short stories are particularly memorable. An early one about Ben Arno Cavendish, Ned's oldest friend, who joins the circus with him and thereafter makes a little mistake with terrible consequences. A later one about the Lithuanian Captain Brandt and his beautiful girlfriend Bella -- also Ned's. A tale about Colonel Jerzy, high-ranking Pole, who finds his own way to Ned. And Hansen, the big, fair Scandinavian, active in Indochina during the Vietnam war: Ned says Hansen, deep in the Cambodian jungle, is his own Kurz, communicating from his own heart of darkness. Finally, there's Frewin, lonely Foreign Office cipher clerk, with all security clearances; seduced into Russia's service by the language lessons of Boris and Olga on early morning radio. This is the war that was, indeed.
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Smiley in Small Doses!, 4 Sep 2006
By 
F. S. L'hoir (Irvine, CA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Secret Pilgrim (Paperback)
I was given this book as a birthday present, otherwise I probably never would have read it, since I am not a fan of spy fiction (other than the kind that appears in the factual espionage genre). I am very glad, however, that I did read it.

"The Secret Pilgrim" represents the best of both worlds, since it is actually a dozen short stories tied together within the framework of a novel. The latter depicts George Smiley, the Old Cold Warrior, acting as guest lecturer to a group of young "Circus" recruits, who are learning their tradecraft from one of his old pupils, Ned (who is himself about to retire). Each of Smiley's topics during the lecture and the conversation afterwards triggers Ned's memories and, therefore, his reminiscences about old cases.

The short stories serve as an excellent introduction to the author's earlier works, since Ned, in his adventures, has dealt with the likes of Bill Haydon, Toby Esterhaze, and Percy Alleline, as well as George Smiley--all of whom make cameo appearances. The tales are entertaining, witty, and wholly absorbing, as one gradually learns that the narrator is the pilgrim of the title on a quest to discover why he ever entered the secret world in the first place. Once he had imagined himself as a dragon slayer, who would leave the world in a "safer place." Now, however, that rampant Communism has been replaced by rampant Capitalism, the narrator, in the last chapter, wonders whether the right people have won, noting that "the evil was not in the system, but in the man."

"The Secret Pilgrim" is set in a very different world from the original Smiley books. George Smiley is now presiding over the "Fishing Rights Committee," a joint effort between the intelligence services of London and Moscow.

How Kim Philby would have approved!.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Delight, 19 Oct 2002
This review is from: The Secret Pilgrim (Paperback)
This book comprises what, at first sight, seem to be a set of short stories. In fact, the stories are linked, in part by a narrative structure and in part by the presence of George Smiley, brought out of retirement to make an after-dinner speech to a bunch of new spooks.
Much of Circus history is revisited, including the mole-hunting era of Tinker, Tailor etc. New angles and insights are revealed and old motivations seen in new lights.
It goes without saying that the writing style is fluid, intelligent and engaging. [If anything, too engaging-it is all too easy to read just one more story....]
Enthusiasts for the earlier history of Smiley and his associates will delight in this book. I'm not entirely sure that newcomers will find it quite such an accessible read: some background has to be assumed to avoid repetition.
Highly recommended.
Bill
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars George Smiley's final ride through the calleys of the Cold War, 18 Feb 2007
By 
David Carter "David Carter - Author of The Fi... (Christchurch, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Secret Pilgrim (Hardcover)
The Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and this book was first published a year later. Back then it was believed that as the Cold War was over, the spying espionage novel was finished. Redundant. Passé.

Of course that wasn't the case, the world's second oldest profession was never going to go as quietly as that, and so it proved. Today in 2007, the intelligence services are busier than ever.

The Secret Pilgrim centres on George Smiley's retirement, and the progress of his protégé, Ned. In many ways it is not a single book at all, but a collection of flashback stories set in such varied locations as Estonia, Israel and Lebanon, and Thailand and Cambodia. The individual stories come in varying degrees of intensity, and many of the images it brought to my mind lived with me long after I had set the book down. Some of them I will never forget. Is this the true test of a novel's power?

Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of Britain's intelligence services, the first woman to hold the post, and the first person ever to hold the post whilst known to the public, stated recently that John Le Carré, of all the espionage writers, painted the most accurate pictures of her times in the service. It is not difficult to believe, and The Secret Pilgrim will not disappoint any espionage aficionados, though you don't have to be such a buff, to glean enjoyment from this work.

I have always preferred Mister le Carré's earlier works, of which this just about is. I found it an easy book to read, hard to put down, easy to follow, (not always the case in this genre) and well worth the effort in returning to his back catalogue. I suspect spy books are set for a comeback, something that will suit Mister le Carré admirably. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but then I would. I'm hooked you see. Give it a try. Codebook anyone?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A high quality way to consume more le Carre fiction on the go, 23 Jan 2012
By 
Mr. P. HAIGH (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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John le Carre's The Secret Pilgrim is a trio of audio CDs totalling nearly three hours of original BBC drama first broadcast in 2010 on BBC Radio 4.

The book has been dramatised for radio by Robert Forrest, who has taken this le Carre classic and turned it into an engaging and entertaining listen. Talented stage actor Simon Russell Beale is George Smiley while TV's Patrick Malahide is Ned. Set in the early post cold war period the story is presented as a series of reminiscences by Ned, prompted by comments made by Smiley during a series of lectures to Ned's trainee spy students. Expertly scripted, the reminiscences are in effect a collection of short stories.

The dramatisation is a typical top-notch and blemish-free BBC effort and the actors have been well chosen, resulting in an eminently listenable audio book. The episodic nature of the story makes it an ideal companion for short journeys as it does for long. This is definitely not a reading of the book by multiple voices - you'd be hard pushed to read the book in three hours - but does not suffer for it. Be aware that this book features Smiley only in passing - the main focus is on Ned and the episodes that he recalls.

In summary this CD is, like the other BBC Smiley dramatisations, of high quality and good value for money. If you are new to Smiley (perhaps through last year's release of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) then this is an excellent way to become more familiar with his world.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars missing link, 16 July 2011
This review is from: The Secret Pilgrim (Paperback)
I normally love le Carre but this book left me feeling slightly disappointed. Individually, the short stories are interesting enough and I especially liked the one with the mysterious Bella. However, I was looking for something more that linked the stories together. This never came or else I missed it.
This book is definitely worth reading if you enjoy the spy/Cold War genre and I will probably return to it after a few months and give it another go.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A great retirement party for George Smiley but probably not the best place to first meet him, 1 Aug 2014
By 
Amazon Customer (Leamington Spa, Warwickshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
One of the things that elevates John Le Carré above other thriller writers is his willingness to play with the conventions of both the genre and his own back catalogue in order to meet the requirements of his themes. Whilst other authors fall into repeating comfortable styles and tropes, Le Carré’s output constantly mutates. There are fixed points within the world of the Circus but the perspective is constantly changing.

The Secret Pilgrim is a great example of this. Ostensibly, it is a series of short stories linked through the device of George Smiley giving an address to a group of espionage trainees and their tutor, Ned. Covering the sweep of Smiley’s career, the book is a celebratory review of Le Carré’s greatest creation and a final full stop as he retires the character along with the Cold War. More than this, it provides an opportunity to revisit many of the themes he explored through Smiley; the efficacy and value of spying, the real value of sacrificing individual lives and souls and the relative merit of ideology. Added to this are increasingly relevant questions about whether the price of winning the Cold War was worth paying; not least since it let slip the specter of carnivorous capitalism.

A final rummage around East Berlin, the post-imperial Far-East and beyond brings Smiley’s story to a satisfying close. He is now a relic of the cold war brought out only to satisfy the curiosity of former enemies in Moscow, who view this quiet, strange old man with awe and trepidation. Meanwhile, Ned finds himself treading the same path as his former teacher, growing increasingly aware of the futility but necessity of espionage and his role in it.

This is not a good book to first meet Smiley. Without the weight of the Karla trilogy and others, the characters and places carry far less meaning. Of course, it is an effective series of espionage vignettes but these are magnified when it is read as a coda of (probably) the finest series of thrillers written during the latter half of the twentieth century.

Le Carré is a master of thriller tension but artfully balances it against strong characterisation and themes that expand out beyond the secret world to include more fundamental questions about society. The pseudo short story format is probably less engaging than his more integrated novels but, nevertheless, any opportunity to spend time with George Smiley is time well spent.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eerie and fascinating, 8 Aug 2008
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This review is from: The Secret Pilgrim (Paperback)
A British Intelligence agent, trained by George Smiley, at the end of his carreer, finds himself led back into a situation reevoking his past work during the Cold War. Fine characters and intriguing action. Excellent.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Secret Pilgrim, 14 Feb 2010
By 
Pat45 "Pats" (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Secret Pilgrim (Paperback)
I enjoyed this book a lot, the last one to feature Smiley. It is really a series of short stories linked together with the character of Ned, but it is a very readable book. I highly recommend it.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For the reflective Le Carre fan, this is the best, 12 Mar 1999
By A Customer
Having read most of JLC's books, this one has a unique effect on me. A series of anecdotal stories, perhaps, connected by a thread summarised by Ned's and Smiley's reflections at the close. Great insight into the real motivation of a spy, and those entrapped in the world of espionage. Wonderfully read, compelling, funny, compassionate and angry.
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The Secret Pilgrim (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Secret Pilgrim (Penguin Modern Classics) by John le Carré (Paperback - 26 May 2011)
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