Accurate? Only CIA operatives know. Fascinating? Surprising? Suspenseful? Yes, yes, yes.


Virtually a history of the US for the past fifty years as seen through the dark lens of the CIA.

The author of several terse thrillers (Walking Back the Cat, 1997, etc.) here widens his scope in a fictional history of the CIA that encompasses a slate of major historical events—not to mention enough double and triple agents, politicians, wives, and lovers to employ half of the Screen Actors Guild in the inevitable miniseries. The briskly paced narrative begins in Germany in the 1950s as the Cold War and the CIA take shape. Agent Harry Torriti, the Sorcerer, tutors apprentice Jack McAuliffe, fresh from Yale, in an attempt to bring in a KGB spy from East to West Berlin. When the KGB catches wind of the attempted “exfiltration,” a decades-long search for KGB moles in the CIA ensues, becoming one of the story’s many compelling threads. Without pushing coincidence to implausible lengths, Littell has Torriti, McAuliffe and his Yale classmates, their wives and families, turning up, Rich-Man, Poor-Man style, at the Hungarian Revolution, the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, the Russian-Afghan War (now disturbingly resonant), and the Gorbachev putsch. A few clunky love scenes aside, the moments when personal cares tragically intersect with professional expediencies are genuinely wrenching. Littell skillfully casts these conflicts against epic moments (the flight of Hungarian refugees, the struggle in the streets of Moscow to save Gorbachev) that are as surging as similar set pieces in Dr. Zhivago and Gone With the Wind. The familiar theme, often tragically illustrated, is to believe no one, certainly no American president, as suggested in a wickedly funny send-up of Ronald Reagan (one of many real-life characters who appear in a bid for verisimilitude). It’s the CIA that, like Dr. Mabeuse in Fritz Lang’s M, rules the US from behind the curtain.

Accurate? Only CIA operatives know. Fascinating? Surprising? Suspenseful? Yes, yes, yes.

Pub Date: April 22, 2002

ISBN: 1-58567-197-5

Page Count: 896

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2002

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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