The collapse of the new world order catches still another of le Carré’s inoffensive spies out hopelessly past his depth.
Ted Mundy calls the well-nigh unrecognizable person he’s morphed into since his Berlin days as student radical “Mundy Two.” But in fact he’s gone through more lives than a biographical encyclopedia: child of both India and Pakistan, official greeter for a British arts organization, overseas youth liaison for same, husband to a rising politico: all activities that made him a perfect choice for the role of counterintelligence agent when a well-informed Polish defector happened to fall into his hands—and, since parting ways with his government masters, co-principal of a shabby Heidelberg language school, common-law husband to a Turkish kebab waitress, and tour guide at one of King Ludwig’s Bavarian castles. But the great relationship that’s ordered, or disordered, his life has been with Sasha, the equally protean fellow-student turned Stasi agent turned itinerant radical lecturer. After chapters and chapters of beautifully written but frustrating flashbacks to the political and personal forces that made Ted what he is and abandoned him in the Linderhof, le Carré brings him smartly to attention with an offer of $500,000 from the mysterious philanthropist Dimitri, of the New Planet Foundation, to refurbish the language school in order to foster greater international understanding. Sasha urges the deal on Ted; his old British handler Nick Amory regards it with suspicion. Readers who remember any of the author’s celebrated earlier novels (The Constant Gardener, 2001, etc.), or who’ve picked up a newspaper during the past two years, will know which is right, though not necessarily why.
Despite a piercing, compassionate portrait of a decent man struggling to keep up with a world in the throes of constant change, le Carré seems this time outpaced by his impossible subject: the layers upon layers of real-life duplicity in the world since 9/11.