Summary and book reviews of Absolute Friends by John Le Carre

Absolute Friends

by John Le Carre

Absolute Friends
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2004, 464 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2004, 464 pages

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Book Summary

An epic tale of loyalty and betrayal set in the West Berlin of the 1960s through to the present day of terrorism and new alliances.

A ferocious new novel from the master: when a man's good heart is his worst enemy. . .

By chance and not by choice, Ted Mundy, eternal striver, failed writer, and expatriate son of a British Army officer, used to be a spy. But that was in the good old Cold War days when a cinder-block wall divided Berlin and the enemy was easy to recognize.

Today, Mundy is a down-at-heel tour guide in southern Germany, dodging creditors, supporting a new family, and keeping an eye out for trouble while in spare moments vigorously questioning the actions of the country he once bravely served.

And trouble finds him, as it has before, in the shape of his old German student friend, radical, and one-time fellow spy, the crippled Sasha, seeker after absolutes, dreamer, and chaos addict.

After years of trawling the Middle East and Asia as an itinerant university lecturer, Sasha has yet again discovered the true, the only answer to life--this time in the form of a mysterious billionaire philanthropist named Dimitri. Thanks to Dimitri, both Mundy and Sasha will find a path out of poverty, and with it their chance to change a world that both believe is going to the devil. Or will they?

Who is Dimitri? Why does Dimitri's gold pour in from mysterious Middle Eastern bank accounts? And why does his apparently noble venture reek less of starry idealism than of treachery and fear?

Some gifts are too expensive to accept. Could this be one of them? With a cooler head than Sasha's, Mundy is inclined to think it could.

In Absolute Friends, John le Carré delivers the masterpiece he has been building to since the fall of communism: an epic tale of loyalty and betrayal that spans the lives of two friends from the riot-torn West Berlin of the 1960s to the grimy looking-glass of Cold War Europe to the present day of terrorism and new alliances. This is the novel le Carré fans have been waiting for, a brilliant, ferocious, heartbreaking work for the ages.

Chapter 1

ON THE DAY his destiny returned to claim him, Ted Mundy was sporting a bowler hat and balancing on a soapbox in one of Mad King Ludwig's castles in Bavaria. It wasn't a classic bowler, more your Laurel and Hardy than Savile Row. It wasn't an English hat, despite the Union Jack blazoned in Oriental silk on the handkerchief pocket of his elderly tweed jacket. The maker's grease-stained label on the inside of the crown proclaimed it to be the work of Messrs. Steinmatzky & Sons, of Vienna.

And since it wasn't his own hat - as he hastened to explain to any luckless stranger, preferably female, who fell victim to his boundless accessibility - neither was it a piece of self-castigation. "It's a hat of office, madam," he would insist, garrulously begging her pardon in a set piece he had off perfectly. "A gem of history, briefly entrusted to me by generations of previous incumbents of my post - wandering scholars, poets, dreamers, men of the cloth - and ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

An excellent book on a timely subject.  

Media Reviews

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani

That Absolute Friends ends up being such a thoroughly implausible performance is less a sign that John le Carré, as often charged, has been unable to adapt his fiction to the post-cold-war world. Rather, it's a sign that he has not chosen in this volume to use his rich and myriad gifts as a writer in the service of storytelling but has instead elected to deliver a blustering and ungainly editorial that turns his characters into a ventriloquist's sheepish puppets.

Kirkus Reviews

Despite a piercing, compassionate portrait of a decent man struggling to keep up with a world in the throes of constant change, le Carre seems this time outpaced by his impossible subject the layers upon layers of real-life duplicity in the world since 9/11.

Booklist - Bill Ott

Starred Review. Le Carre uses Teddy as a mouthpiece for some strong political opinions (the U.S. is described as a hyperpower that thinks it can treat the rest of the world as its allotment), but the novel never becomes the author's soapbox. The human story remains paramount, even if the chilling message is that human stories don't stand much of a chance in the world as we find it.

Publishers Weekly

No reader, whatever his politics, could fail to be moved by the passion and intelligence of le Carré's latest. For those who feel as he does about the war and its consequences, this book will be a special gift.

The Observer (UK) - Robert McCrum

More Greene than Maugham, and bursting with a satirical indignation that is sometimes grimly comic, le Carré brings the thriller face to face with contemporary politics and, in the process, has once again demonstrated his mastery of his chosen genre while at the same time giving lesser, ordinary novelists a masterclass in taking nothing for granted.

Amazon.co.uk - Barry Forshaw

... his best in years, capturing the verve and mastery of the magnificent early work.

Reader Reviews

L. MacLearn

One of Le Carre's best -- Elegant, vitriolic, masterful
Year ago, my parents loaned me a copy of "Smiley's People", and I was immediately hooked by the elegance of the authors phrasing, the sizzling irony, and the multi-timbral intent that I later came to associate with all his work. In Le Carre's world, ...   Read More

Ian S Baker

absolute friends - absolutely wonderful
A book that can be enjoyed on several levels, as ever with Le Carre, from the quality of the prose, & the depth of the characters, to the complexity of the plot; and yet, unusually for Le Carre, a thinly veiled personal political statement on ...   Read More

Joshua Lim

Absolute Friends
a deep read...was confusing as there are lots of reference to 60s' Europe events and leaders...but after reading it with constant reference with the help of internet...it was great learning...! good storyline..and very entertaining writings by the ...   Read More

Niklas Törnlund

Inspired and inspiring; his strongest in years. As usual with le Carré, I found myself reading passages out half-loud to myself. The plot is focused and the historical and geographical span wide enough to harbour two or three standard novels
of the ...   Read More

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