A Small Town in Germany

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A review of the John le Carre novel "A Small Town in Germany"

Yesterday I finished reading the novel A Small Town in Germany by John le Carre. The book, first published in 1968, is set in Bonn, West Germany during the 1960s, a town in turmoil with radical groups and riots in the streets. When Leo Harting, second secretary at the British Embassy in Bonn, goes missing along with over forty confidential files, embittered Foreign Office agent Alan Turner is sent from London to investigate. As Turner learns more about Harting's secret life, he finds himself increasingly drawn into the murky, dangerous world of Cold War espionage.

The book is predominately told in a series of abrasive confrontations and interrogations between Turner and members of the Embassy, with a minimum of action. The book vividly depicts the enclosed world of the British Embassy (le Carre himself worked at the British Embassy in Bonn for several years, so he knew what he was talking about). The book may be slow moving for some, and the nominal "hero" is pretty much bullies everyone he encounters, and in a couple of scenes strikes women, but it is a beautifully written novel and paints a powerful, deeply cynical portrait of the 1960s spy world.

 

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