27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on 27 June 2005
For some reason, I'd left this book on the shelf for around a year before I got around to reading it, but in some ways actually improves its reading. There are parallels here with some of Le Carre's other novels (The spy who came in from the cold; The perfect spy; Our game) and is a fine thriller by any standards. However what differentiates it from these and makes it a very important work is the obvious anger running throughout the book that the author feels regarding the current politics of fear eminating from the US and UK administrations.
Le Carre emphasises the climate of propaganda, lies and illegality of governmental decisions throughout the book. It was finished shortly after the Iraq war; a time in which one by one, the reasons given for the war in the first place have crumbled and its bloody aftermath lingers on and on.
A prophetic and very important book.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on 16 January 2004
Is it still possible that a writer can create a so historically aware novel which is fiction and fabulation, but speaks directly to those who have experienced first hand the events and socio-political climates he weaves into his story? Le Carré is foremost a storyteller and his protagonists are fictious, albeit symbols. But to a person who demonstrated against the Vietnam war as a student, was there when Aldo Moro was kidnapped, lived through the Baader Meinhof era in Germany, and is proud of being a resident in a country where a stand was made about the intervention in Iraq, his book makes lots of sense.I disagree with other reviews about the end. Mundy and Sasha are two sides of the one coin united in a hopeless battle. Their demise is as symbolic as the rest of their very existence. They are incidental to the overall message. I revel in the clarity of the writing and the erudition which is a hallmark of le Carré's later writing. The Constant Gardner was his best book to date for me. This comes a close second. And I've read them all.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Based on the reviews on the back cover of this book, I expected a fast paced and intelligently written spy novel.
The book definitely meets the intellectual expectation, but severely struggles to gain any sort of momentum. I would happily trade some of the in-depth narrative for some quicker plot development.
To paint a better picture - I am not expecting a plot development on every page, and I have to stress the point that it is incredibly slow to develop. Halfway through the book you are left wondering if there was much point to what's already been read, it's almost like reading treacle.
The book does not suit slow readers. In order to make the most of it you need to get through it in large sittings so as to keep the interest flowing. For this reason, and the fact that it does not meet my expectations, I am giving the book 2 out of 5.
I hope this rating will deter anyone who has similar interests to mine. However, I am sure that fans of the author will enjoy the book and might consider a higher rating of 3 or 4 out of 5, but I strongly advise anyone who wants a casual novel to look elsewhere.
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 29 December 2003
Smiley and Karla, Magnus and Rick Pym, now Ted and Sasha - Le Carre is at his best when he creates pairs of characters who lead each other to their fates, and in Absolute Friends he comes up with two true immortals.
Ted, in earlier Le Carre books, would've been a perfectly normal member of the espiocracy, the kind of dependable, solid agent who would've discharged his Circus duties without conscience or controversy. But contemporary le Carre characters have even more tangled depths - Ted's concern for justice and equality is rooted in a loathing of the mess that Britain left behind in India and Pakistan; this obviously leads him into anti-imperialism and the shadowy world of espionage. It is in Germany that he encounters the brilliant, disabled Sasha - firebrand politician and also committed to his own brand of liberty.
Absolute Friends shows two figures bound up into their systems striving to find their own individual justice, their own places in the world. States, systems, organisations are not to be trusted in the new Le Carre - loyalty is individual, morality is absolute. There are probably more overt attacks on Western liberalism and capitalism in this book than in the rest of his work put together; what was formerly presented as the "right" way is now merely the less repulsive of a set of fairly unpleasant alternatives.
Yet how can men like Sasha and Ted build a better world?
This is possibly Le Carre's finest book yet. It lacks the immediacy and some of the intimacy of "A Perfect Spy", although rivals it in scope. It lacks the intense intrigue and 'tradecraft' of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" though matches it for density and depth of tone.
It is a fine, mature and humane novel by a superb writer with an clear yet idiosyncratic view of honour, morality and duty. Wonderfully readable.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 2 January 2004
This book strengthen's my admiration for Le Carre, though its ending is somewhat trite and disappointing.
All the usual elements are there: the contempt for the socialist paradise of the communist states, the cold-eyed cynicism of its western enemies, this time with the added spice of a quick tour of the Berlin anarchist milleu of the late-60s. All of this makes excellent reading.
The book, though, is already famous for its commentary on the "war on terror" - I won't spoil the ending, but frankly it is fatuous, the sort of nonsense one would expect from a born-again disciple of Noam Chomsky.
Having said that, I really do have to recommend it!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 7 January 2008
Ted Mundy was born in India, in what later became Pakistan. His father was a British soldier who drank too much. His mother died in childbirth. Father and son return to England where Ted goes to school till he drops out of Oxford. He goes to Berlin, falls in with leftist anarchists and meets his absolute friend Sasha.
He saves Sasha's life during a student demonstration and is beaten for his trouble, then whisked out of Germany by British diplomats. He eventually gets a job leading goodwill tours of British artists behind the Iron Curtain and he seems to be a happily married member of the British middle class. Then he gets in trouble because a bunch of clueless British drama students try to smuggle a Polish actor from Poland through East Germany and into the West.
Sasha, now an agent of the East German secret police, steps in and saves Ted from the Stasi and now Ted is pulled into a double spy game in which both he and Sasha pretend to spy on England, when their real goal is to pull down the East German regime they both despise.
They remain double agents throughout the Cold War, but after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ted is out of the spy game and they drift apart. They don't see each other often, but the bond between them is strong and apparently eternal.
Ted divorces, drifts to Germany, gets a job as a tour guide in Germany, moves in with a Turkish prostitute, becomes sort of a surrogate father for her son Mustafa, gets a dog and appears to finally be happy. Than Sasha returns to his life. Pulling Ted into a scheme of founding an open university that will liberate Western thought from the corporate imperialists.
This scheme is funded by a mysterious character named Dimitri, a renegade billionaire who denounces the recent invasion of Iraq by the Americans as "a criminal and moral conspiracy." He goes on to claim that the war has been, "dressed up as a crusade for Western life and liberty...launched by a clique of war-hungry Judeo-Christian geopolitical fantasists who hijacked the media and exploited America's post-9/11 psychopathy.
Yes, the book is a bit political, le Carre seems to feel that he has to get his views about Bush, Blair and the Iraqi War into popular print. Still it's a heck of a story with an fatalistic ending that reminded me of "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold." This is a character driven book, excellently written and it swept me away, but I suspect that if you are a strong supporter of the current administration in Washington, that your political views will cloud your judgement of this fine story which is, in my opinion, one of John le Carre's best.
Reviewed by Captain Katie Osborne
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 12 January 2004
Good new for le Carre fans - the master is back to his brilliant form!!!!! His best novel since Smiley's People. He manages to write a topical and accurate reflection of today's international political climate (and political thoughts), whilst retaining the mastery of depicting humanity at its most fundamental, well, human level that is the trademark of le Carre. Life in this big bad world is bearable again when one can read le Carre! Yes it does show his political leanings towards the Noam Chomsky school of thought, but he is far more persuasive (and engrossing) than Chomsky! Must read!!!!!!!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
"Absolute Friends," a 2003 publication by renowned British spy author John LeCarre, is considered by many reviewers to be one of his greatest works. It surely is passionate, powerful, and well-written. It concerns the hapless Ted Mundy, whom we meet working as a tourist guide in southern Germany. He has been a spy for the U.K. during the great glory days of the Cold War; when the notorious cinder-block wall divided East from West Berlin, and the city was thick with spooks. He has honors and awards; but then the wall came down, East and West Germany reunited, somewhat unexpectedly, and he and friends were out of jobs. The Pakistan-born son of an unreliable, irresponsible, heavy-drinking British Army officer and an Irish nanny has, since then, tried to write, without success. He's also tried his hand at business, without success. Ditto, marriage. So we now find him grubbing a bare living, trying to support a beautiful, former prostitute common-law Turkish wife and son. We are, apparently, to believe that he's the sort who loves not wisely, but too well; though readers may fail to see anything in his background that would make him such a person.
At any rate, Mundy has knocked around, Asia, Europe, even America. He has been caught up in the great student unrest of the 1960s, particularly in Germany, where he had gone to study. He has made a lifelong friend of Sasha, a crippled East German leftwing activist: for many years, they've had an enjoyable, exciting, profitable game playing spy and counterspy for their respective governments. But the glory days are long gone when Sasha reenters Mundy's life, bringing the mysterious, billionaire philanthropist Dimitri with him. Will the friends make a killing or get themselves killed? The sources of Dimitri's money are entirely too obscure, as are his aims, and associates.
The first thing to say is, for better or worse, "Absolute Friends" certainly resembles the rest of its author's work. It has a reasonably complex, well-thought out, suspenseful plot. It's witty. Dialogue crackles. Narrative and descriptive writing are sharp, and the spy craft can't be beat. It opens with one of his marvelous set pieces, and closes with one that's even better. In almost every book, he mentions his rich upper class twits talking with Belgravia,(expensive neighborhood) or Roedean, (expensive school) versions of lower-class Cockney accents; this book mentions an American girl talking Vassar overlaid with a broad German accent. Like most of his later books, it's rather long, and slow in getting started. The book largely takes place in the author's German-speaking comfort zone. We have met irresponsible fathers several times before in his work (see A Perfect Spy,filmed by the BBC asA Perfect Spy: Complete BBC Series (3 Disc Box Set) [DVD], which in fact, it strongly resembles.) We've also met the crippled left wing East German spy, with whom he plays at spy/counterspy before: he was "Axel" in "A Perfect Spy." Heaven knows, we've seen the beautiful younger woman before. And, as is common in his later books, while the villains are obscure, the politics are quite overt.
But to me, the book most noticeably shows the influence of his early mentor Graham Greene. Greene famously believed that it was better to betray your country than your friend. So, apparently, does LeCarre, at least in this book. The odd thing is, in his earlier life as David Cornwell, actual spy, while in place behind the Iron Curtain, LeCarre was betrayed to the Russians by Greene's great and good friend, the most famous of British double agents, Kim Philby. It did not have fatal consequences in LeCarre's case, as it did for others, and might have for him. But it essentially ended his field career. And LeCarre's earlier, celebrated "Karla" trilogy, about chasing a double agent through the Circus, his name for the spy bureau, makes clear that he wasn't too pleased about any of it at the time.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
John Le Carre's an angry man. Years of working at intelligence and writing of the spy's world, you'd think he'd earned a rest. But the lessons of the Cold War, ignored by the West's leaders today, fuel his creativity. So, in his seventh decade, his ascerbic pen [keyboard?] continues chronicling political fallacies. In a style harsher than most of his previous books, Le Carre confronts today's world even more forcefully than in the past. His command of language remains unmatched, but subtlety has been tempered with a new assertiveness.
In creating a new character, Le Carre depicts a long span of time in this book. Ted Mundy's early years as a student radical in Berlin establish the foundation for this story. There, Mundy encounters Sasha, who becomes friend and mentor. Mundy, not a revolutionary, has a vague notion of wanting a better world. Lacking Sasha's dedication, and being shipped back to Britain, Mundy's life becomes the image of a man shambling along a country lane. No purpose, no successes - the images of his childhood in Pakistan with a drunken officer father and Muslim Ayah [nanny] impinge on his consciousness. As do the tales Col. Mundy told of Ted's almost divine mother. In his wanderings, Ted's links with Sasha are lost. He's an absent friend.
After many frustrating years, some in America, Mundy returns to Britain. His wanderings and introspections have led him to create a series of "selfs" - Mundy One, Two and so on. A new one is created when he's recruited to become an agent. The "cultural" maven is an old ploy for snooping or running agents. Mundy seems to have a magic touch, not least because his primary contact is Sasha. Sasha, disillusioned with the absolutisms and hypocrisies of the communist regimes, is a double agent in his own right. Between the two, links are forged to give Mundy the highest accolades from his British masters. The collapse of the Soviet Union reduces much of Mundy's focus - he's already passed through a marriage and fatherhood.
Adding to his confusion is another appearance of Sasha, who had vanished with The Wall. Sasha has a project. A big project - one that will remake the world. The American invasion of Iraq has unbalanced Mundy and Sasha's proposal tips him further. What role could a tired, middle-aged former radical have in relation to the crusade of the Coalition of the Willing? Le Carre speaks through his characters to condemn the sham of a professed expansion of liberty hiding a new colonialism. He uses Mundy to act as a foil to hypocritical Anglo-American adventures. Mundy knows both worlds, and some beyond. He should be a valiant campaigner with Sasha as his partner and mentor. Can he meet and overcome this new challenge?
Le Carre's mastery of portrayal of the spy's persona has lost nothing with the passage of years. Ted Mundy is an entirely new character. He's not the dotty old uncle of George Smiley, nor the rambunctious adventurer of "Honourable Schoolboy". Mundy could be a neighbour, even a cousin or close friend. His stresses are internal, but not entirely closed off. Hiding your life's work in mundane employment is a soul-breaking role, and Le Carre has depicted it masterfully. A book to be enjoyed in reprise, even if the ultimate outcome remains in the hands of the Coalition of the Willing. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
ABSOLUTE FRIENDS is perhaps John le Carré's most elegant construct in some time. By its conclusion, it also reflects the author's anger against America's and Britain's overt justification for their current involvement in Iraq, i.e. as the front line in the war against Muslim terrorism. I doubt if it will be preferred bedtime reading for George Dubya or Tony Blair, just as CONSTANT GARDENER wouldn't find favor with pharmaceutical company CEOs. Mundy's largely directionless life is characterized by a lack of entrenched commitment to anything political, and, like a leaf, is blown from cause to cause by girlfriends, wife, mistress, intelligence handler, circumstance, and, above all, his "absolute friend" Sasha, a stateless, radical visionary/philosopher/anarchist, whom Ted originally meets during his youthful anti-establishment period in West Berlin.
As with any le Carré offering, all of which compulsively stress character and plot development, the reader seeking action and thrills need not open the cover. To my mind, the author's greatest triumphs were the two George Smiley novels, TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY and SMILEY'S PEOPLE, both of which were made into superb television miniseries by the BBC and starring Alec Guinness in the title role. Here, Mundy, in his own way, is as engaging a protagonist as Smiley. However, I must ultimately knock-off a star because I, while no uncritical supporter of George Dubya and his Iraqi venture, somewhat resent being presented with an entertainment opportunity that becomes, in the end, simply a vehicle for the author to grind an ax, albeit cleverly done.