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John le Carré, the ultimate spy novelist from the Cold War, died at the age of 89

His publisher said in a statement on Sunday that John Le Carré, the spy who became author of novels whose novels set the tone for the Cold War era, had passed away. He was 89 years old.

Curtis Brown CEO Johnny Geller told the publisher in a statement that the cause of death was pneumonia. Le Carré, whose real name is David Cornwell, has survived his wife nearly 50 years and his four children.

“We will never see something like him again, and every lover of books will feel his loss, and everyone who cares about the human condition,” Geller said in a statement. “We have lost a great character in English literature, a man of great intelligence, kindness, sense of humor and intelligence. I lost a friend, a mentor, and an inspiration.”

Le Carré told Mark Phillips of CBS News in 1996, “Joseph Conrad wrote about the sea because he was born at sea. I was recruited too early in the underground world. I was copying Conrad in this request; The Secret World was natural to me. An element, I have been in it all those years and I understand the way it works because it understands the sea. “

Le Carré’s first novel, “Call for the Dead,” introduced the world to George Smiley, a civil servant in glasses who was unhappy, but ruthless and who was a kind of anti-James Bond. Smiley has appeared in nine Le Carré books, including as a side character in his third and first bestseller, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, and in his latest book, A Legacy of Spies.

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Le Carré told Steve Croft on “60 Minutes” In 2018 that “these characters never left me”.

Le Carré said: “In a strange way, especially Smiley, they have become – even if I don’t write about them – they have become conscious companions at times in my imagination.” “And what I wanted to do at this point, this closing point in Smiley’s saga now 50, 60 years later, was to have the present question the past about what we did then in the Cold War in the name of freedom. And it was worth it. And in that very mood, I finished. The book and the search for George Smiley, which for me was a kind of truth-seeking. “

Le Carré refused to place his name in any literary awards and refused to accept the Knighthood. He told Croft that he is “skeptical of the literary world because I don’t want to honor him.” He said that being the leader of the British Empire was what he wanted “the least.”

“I don’t want to pretend as someone who has been honored by the state and therefore has to conform to the state in some way,” said Le Carré. “And I don’t want to wear a shield.”

Le Carré was 5 years old when his mother, Olive, deserted the family. He and his brother have been left under the care of their father, Ronnie, who is a con man. Le Carré said his father had a “wonderful mind,” but that “if there is a bent way to do something, it takes it.”

Le Carré was an excellent student, he graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Modern Languages. The espionage career seemed to suit him naturally.

“When it comes to recruiting people for the underground world, what recruiters are looking for is pretty much what I had,” said Le Carré. “I was unlicensed, looking for a foundation to take care of me. I had a little bit of theft. I understood theft. I understood natural criminality in people – because it was – it was all around me. And I have no doubt that a part of it was inside of me too. Once I found it, I understood natural criminality in people. That identity, it took root in me. It is exactly that – crystallized with the world I knew in the past. “

He was staring at work in Germany for MI6, Britain’s notorious intelligence agency, disguised as a young diplomat while the Berlin Wall was on its way up.

He eventually began writing novels during his commute and lunchtime.

Le Carré said, “My memory is that I wrote it very quickly, the story.” “But I had no idea where I was going in the beginning. It just flowed. And I think you’ve had a break like that once in your clerical life. I really think – nothing else crossed my mind so naturally and so fast.”

His third book, “The Spy Who Came From the Cold,” became his standout novel and was the literary event of 1963. Since it was written under a pseudonym, the only people who knew who the author was, were British intelligence, and they didn’t want to blow its cover in Germany. When he was finally revealed as an author, MI6 gave him permission to leave, which allowed him to focus on writing full time.

John the Square
English spy writer and novelist John Le Carr was seen in March 1965.

Terry Fincher / Express via Getty Images


Le Carré’s novels focused on what he called the “Secret Intelligence Service” or “the circus,” and were the perfect window into the secret life of espionage at the height of the Cold War. The 1974 movie Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was loosely based on the hunt for the real spy Kim Philby, who provided hundreds of classified documents to the Soviet Union.

But even as the Cold War dragged on into the 1980s, Le Carré’s writings were not muted. Philip Roth described his 1986 novel, An Ideal Spy, as “the best English novel since the war.”

His great success as a novelist translated into cinematic and television adaptations, with “The Night Manager” and his conversion to the BBC series and the movie “The Spy Who Came In from the Cold” into a movie in 1965. Among the actors who portrayed George Smiley were Robert Davies, Alec Guinness and Gary Oldman .

After the Cold War ended, Le Curry turned his attention to the pharmaceutical industry, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and, ultimately, Britain’s exit from the European Union. Tell Mark Phillips of CBS Sunday MorningIn 2019, even though the Cold War is over, it’s “the same game but it’s played for different purposes and for different rules.”

Le Carré said: “Well, let me say, first of all, that in my books I have always tried to live the passion of my time.” “And in this case, I deeply felt – I still felt very deeply – that the British public was being tricked by people with vested interests. So, to get that feeling, to invest the argument in characters instead of just standing on the soapbox, that was my job.” .

Maggie Benson

"Bacon trailblazer. Certified coffee maven. Zombie lover. Tv specialist. Freelance communicator."

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