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Absolute Friends

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A "stunningly timely spy novel" that takes readers from 1960s West Berlin to the Iraq War ( Entertainment Weekly ) from the author of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.

Today, Mundy is a down-at-the-heels 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 an old German student friend, radical, and onetime 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 Carre delivers the masterpiece he has been building to since the fall of 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 Carre fans have been waiting for, a brilliant, ferocious, heartbreaking work for the ages.

“A searing, startling novel that sweeps through much of the twentieth century and up to the present conflict with Iraq.” —Lev Grossman, Time

456 pages, Paperback

First published December 1, 2003

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About the author

John le Carré

394 books8,246 followers
John le Carré, the pseudonym of David John Moore Cornwell (born 19 October 1931 in Poole, Dorset, England), was an English author of espionage novels. Le Carré had resided in St Buryan, Cornwall, Great Britain, for more than 40 years, where he owned a mile of cliff close to Land's End.

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5 stars
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3 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 658 reviews
Profile Image for Supratim.
233 reviews451 followers
September 1, 2019
I recently finished a non-fiction book on espionage The Unending Game: A Former R&AW Chief’s Insights into Espionage which had multiple references to John Le Carre novels. The author, a former head of RAW, the Indian secret service clearly is a fan of Le Carre’s writing and his realistic portrayal of the spycraft. Prompted by the said references, I finally started reading this book (had owned for a long time, but never got around to reading it.)

I cannot claim to be an expert on Le Carre’s work, but I do know that his novels transcend the limitations of thrillers and occupy a niche in the realms of literary fiction.

The friends mentioned in the title are Ted Mundy, son of a drunk British soldier, born 1947 in newly created Pakistan; and Sasha, refugee son of an East German Lutheran pastor, an incorrigible anarchist.

The two men would meet in an anarchist commune in Sixties West Berlin, and become close friends only to lose touch. Mundy would drift apart, lead many lives and finally settle down. But, Sasha would again enter his life in the backdrop of Cold War Espionage, and Mundy’s life would change radically. Circumstances will again drive them apart, but Sasha would suddenly turn up again in Mundy’s life (during the Iraq War) with an offer to transform the world. Now I shut my big mouth, lest I give away anything interesting.

I liked the way the narrative would reveal the character of Ted Mundy, starting from his present life as a tour guide in Germany, we go on a flashback to his back and understand the factors and situations that molded the person.

This novel is not just a superbly written thriller. The author, as usual, has done a splendid job of exploring the human psyche and themes such as friendship, ideology, love, family, deception, betrayal, disillusionment, guilt and injustice. The narrative is extremely gripping, the characters well fleshed out and realistic, and the twist shocking.

What struck me about the novel was the author’s rage and condemnation of the Iraq War, how a certain “hyperpower” was conducting the war on terror, with Britain being an ally to this injustice. I had read earlier in some article that Le Carre was a staunch critic of America’s war on terror, but I understood the extent of the author’s rage in this novel. If you read the book or read about the book , then you will realize what the author feels about the USA. I did a quick research and it seems that the book received a frosty reception on both sides of the Atlantic. The Times Literary Supplement (TLS) called this book “.. little more than agit-prop.” A New York Times reviewer dismissed Absolute Friends, describing the book as “a clumsy, hectoring, conspiracy-minded message-novel meant to drive home the argument that American imperialism poses a grave danger to the new world order.”

If you can overlook the author’s opinions of the USA, then this novel is actually a good spy thriller.
Profile Image for Quirkyreader.
1,540 reviews43 followers
July 22, 2018
Oh my, this book had me hooked from the start. I wanted to finish it in one sitting, but work got in the way.

This offering from 2003 is classic Le Carre. But, he did traverse a bit into John Fowles territory for a microsecond. And after reading this story, it is building up my hopes for the next book in Le Carre’s back catalogue.

Also if you are a big fan of Le Carre’s spycraft, this story will not disappoint.
Profile Image for Susan Hampson.
1,522 reviews58 followers
September 24, 2018
Friends come and go in your life but on rare occasions there is a special bond between two people, a friendship that lasts over decades. That was how it was with Ted Mundy and Sasah. Mundy I felt was a man who didn’t seem to belong anywhere, like he had no roots that he felt at home with, so when he met Sasah it seemed like he had an anchor, somewhere he could keep returning to and knew who he was. The friendship began in student days where they took part in the normal radical demos in the 1960’s. It was a few years later that the two would meet again. Sasah had discovered about his father’s past that tainted his own life and Ted had married, got a son and was teaching. Sasah was eager to recruit Ted into the world of cold war antics of spying. Sasah was playing both sides as a double agent himself.
Quite a chunk of the story is set in Germany, where information is passed back and forth from East to West but even the Berlin Wall can’t keep the pair apart. Sasah in the East and Ted in the West. These are the days of thriving spies, that seemed to be in sheer abundance, at a time not too long after the great war and yet long enough to have built this divide in Germany. It seems that Ted Mundy isn’t always a lucky man to be a round for people who know him.
When the wall comes down it leaves Ted and Sasah in a kind of no-man’s land as far as spying goes. With the wall gone Germany had once again united leaving them sort of out of the loop. The story really does make you feel like you are back in time as John le Carré brings it all to life. There is rather a lot of characters in the story, with leaps in time and changing attitudes created by Governments and politicians.
I know that the end of the story is a little divided by the how the readers feel. I really liked how it all came together at the end. This is my first book, by this author, but a couple of other titles have piqued my interest. A fascinating story of espionage, friendship and loyalty.
Thanks to Penguin Press for an e-copy of this book which I have reviewed honestly
Profile Image for Lisabet Sarai.
Author 177 books168 followers
April 1, 2019
Less morally ambiguous than many of le Carre's books, ABSOLUTE FRIENDS makes it very clear who is the enemy.

Gripping, moving and as tightly written as all his novels, taking in a huge sweep of history.

This is literature - not just spy fiction!
Profile Image for Nigeyb.
1,244 reviews281 followers
May 20, 2020
I'm a big fan of John le Carré and I am steadily working my way through all his novels.

Absolute Friends (2003) is another masterclass from JLC. A really satisfying and provocative trawl through the post war intelligence world which brings the reader right up to the War on Terror. The absolute friends of the title are Ted Mundy, a rootless English man, and his East German friend, Sasha, the crippled son of a Lutheran priest with family links to the Nazis - beyond that, the less you know the better. The plot is hard to second guess and full of surprises.

As with many of his books, in addition to being an engrossing and credible thriller, Absolute Friends also offers interesting moral and ideological insights, and peerless characterisation. To say JLC is angry and appalled by the war on Iraq, and the war on terror, would be an understatement, and his righteous indignation shines through so much of this wonderful novel.


Absolute Friends is a superbly paced novel spanning fifty-six years, a theatrical masterstroke of tragi-comic writing, and a savage fable of our times, almost of our hours.

The friends of the title are Ted Mundy, British soldier's son born 1947 in a shining new independent Pakistan, and Sasha, refugee son of an East German Lutheran pastor and his wife who have sought sanctuary in the West.

The two men meet first as students in riot-torn West Berlin of the late Sixties, again in the grimy looking-glass of Cold War espionage and, most terribly, in today's unipolar world of terror, counter-terror and the war of lies.

Profile Image for Mark.
1,108 reviews140 followers
January 22, 2009

Calling John le Carre a spy novelist is liking calling Shakespeare a jingle writer. Nevertheless, there was something about this book that bothered me enough to knock one star off my otherwise high regard, and I think I can discuss it without issuing a spoiler alert.

First, the basics: Ted Mundy is a Brit who almost falls into the spy trade after he renews his acquaintance with old student friend, the enigmatic and charismatic Sasha. Together, they had played street revolutionaries in Berlin in the 60s, and when Mundy meets Sasha again years later, a meeting Sasha has cleverly arranged, he discovers Sasha has become a spy for the East Germans (though he's a double agent) and Mundy becomes his one and only go-between for years thereafter.

In the process, gentle Ted loses his wife and his son and all manner of other normality while leading his double and sometimes triple life.

The buildup of Ted's and Sasha's relationship and the umbilical connection they have is wonderfully described and propels the novel along nicely. But the real question le Carre wants to ask is: What happens to two old spies when the reason for their existence no longer exists (i.e., the crumbling of the Berlin Wall)?

The answer he comes up with is gripping, mysterious, but in the end, I thought, a little over the top. In some ways, this novel seemed as much a way for le Carre to express his disgust with the Iraq war through his characters as it was a story driven by its own imperatives.

Nevertheless, I recommend it.
Profile Image for Jim.
905 reviews2 followers
September 5, 2020
Read it and weep, Robert Harris. This is how to write a spy thriller. Le Carre's strength, or one of them (and there are many) are his characterisations which, in less skilled hands, could become ludicrous caricatures. He makes them believable though. As he does the situations. You really begin to believe that the world of espionage works exactly as portrayed here. His heroes tend to be offbeat misfits who can't seem to settle in a normal life and, from the novels I've read so far, tend to end up dead in the end. The only thing I dislike about reading Le Carre is my inability to find authors who are writing with similar panache. It really does highlight the shortcomings of Robert Harris, Robert Wilson and the like who are undoubtedly good authors but don't reach this kind of level. And I couldn't tell you why.
93 reviews6 followers
January 17, 2012
I decided to read other reviewers here on Goodreads before I gave my stars. Turns out they didn't change my first instinct to give it a solid four. Was hard for me to buy the (spoiler alert) probability that Mundy would take up with Sasha a THIRD time in response to his appeal to save the world having had two prior undesirable outcomes. But I could get past it in view of so many salient themes to the modern setting. I found it interesting that it was copywritten 2003, which explains all the references to the Iraq war being declared "over," is if it was fair to render some hindsight in novel form. If those characters only knew...... One thing missing in the reviews I've read (admittedly only a few): Didn't anyone notice the recurring aspect of Blackwater-esque elements in the wars? And the anarchist's horror at the capitalism therein? Corporate mercenaries involving themselves in--or downright sponsoring--wars between states for the sole purpose of their bottom lines, is portrayed here with all the poignancy and disgust appropriate to a war trumped up on false pretenses. Yes the main characters are flawed, human, and compelling, as they can only be in the translucent world of spyhood and survival. Which makes the rather whiplash ending so tragic and affecting. Few works have left me with a sense of futility and despair so complete. Brilliant.
Profile Image for Joni Dee.
Author 2 books41 followers
April 13, 2016
If you follow my reviews you know by now that i'm a le Carré fanatic ... In Absolute Friends Le Carré returns to the same formula that has worked in so many of his books, with one distinctive above all - a perfect spy. In this excellent spy thriller, we learn about the relationship between Ted and Sasha (operator-agent as well as friends) through their years old relationship as students, through their cordial correspondence, and at the end through current events.

Le Carré is demonstrating the American monopoly over the war on terror, with a blunt disregard to human rights, while he is weaving the long lasting relationship between the two individuals, which survived through the cold war, the iron curtain and the new espionage world.

an enjoyable Le Carré that will get a grip over you, until you reach the (somewhat) disappointing conclusion (that prevented me from awarding the book 5 stars).
1,127 reviews1 follower
May 26, 2013
Maybe a "5" is too high a rating...amazing?...maybe not.
But I give it a 5 for Le Carre's tightrope walk from fiction to non-fiction. This novel rings all kinds of bells, historic and political.
And he takes 'em all on - the pseudo-liberals and conservatives, Islamist terrorists, the CIA, the British Secret Service, communists, the HUGE money corporations with hands in pies everywhere - all the stuff that was - and has - "come true" sadly, but expectedly.
Keep thinking about Eisenhower's warning about the military-industrial complex and the squelching of radical viewpoints and the "spin" of journalists beholden to governments or ideologies.
So struck by Ted Mundy (the man of many Mundys) and his "absolute friend" Sasha as they navigate years of espionage and inquiry and idealism and failure - as they are handed from one handler to the next.
Many reviewers object to the last ten pages. I don't. They couldn't have ended up anywhere but dead by the hands of Ultimate J, just as they are supposedly embarked on forming an alternate, radical new form of education, the Counter-University. There are books, but the online piece is key.
I so fear the online piece of modern life and learning. All the little children wed to their phones and pads and laptops, tapping away to gain knowledge with no knowledge or desire to test the sources they find.
Maybe that's the key: the ability to challenge, to question, to ask many times over what is truth - and lie.
Profile Image for Yvann S.
309 reviews16 followers
May 22, 2011
"Leaving the envelope to mature for a week or two, therefore, he waits until the right number of tequilas has brought him to the right level of insouciance, and rips it open."

Ted Mundy, Pakistan-born English major's son, Germanophile and student rebel, has just about settled into mediocrity at the British Council when a trip in his guise as head of Overseas Drama and Arts (particular responsibility: Youth) becomes an exercise in secret police evasion. A figure from his past appears and he is recruited into double agency.

I got to page 260 out of 400 of this. The first 200 pages were really promising - fascinating character development, a cold open that leaves us desperate to get back to it, great student riot atmosphere... and then we get into the spying proper and it bored me to anger. Seriously, I got so angry with the dull plot, dire characters and chronically self-indulgent writing ("redux" 4 times in 2 pages??) that I decided I would rather play Bubble Shooter on my phone than continue reading it. Scathing criticism indeed.

The writing is exceptional and so consistent that I struggled to find a quote for the top of this review and shan't waste more time trying to find any more - rather than good writing with exceptional one-liners, this is excellent writing with an unfortunate dollop of smug. The page that finally made me lose my temper was one in which Ted was named "Mundy redux" 5 times over a double page. I don't know what redux was supposed to mean, given that we are already so hopelessly entrenched in Ted's multiple personalities, but it struck me as so pompous, so "I require my readers to have advanced degrees, otherwise they're not good enough", that I was genuinely angry.

The characters are impossible to relate to - Ted is dull, mediocre, apathetic; no wonder his wife finds someone else. Sasha is fiery and contrary, but implausibly so. And no one else gets much of a look-in, as this is about the two absolute friends and not anyone else. So character development for the support cast is woeful.

And as for the plot - Ted's childhood: fascinating. Student days: engrossing. Berlin riot participation: page-turning. Settling into middle-class mediocrity in Britain/spying: urgh. Bubble Shooter was more exciting.
Profile Image for Gram.
543 reviews38 followers
July 8, 2019
A Le Carre novel in which the author wears his heart determinedly on his sleeve. There are reviews on Goodreads which explain the plot far better than I could. All I'll say is that I read one review of "Absolute Friends" in "The Guardian" newspaper and it was obvious the reviewer hadn't a clue what Le Carre was talking about and possibly skipped large sections of the story.
I prefer the reviews on this website. This tale of friendship between Ted and Sasha, two street fighting men from the 1960's who become double agents in the Cold War and then confused participants in "The War On Terror". Although not without humour, overall, it's a depressing tale, but one that's worth reading because Le Carre does a better job on the history and politics of the past 60 years than most of the authors of "factual" history books can hope to achieve. This is far removed from George Smiley territory as it details the confusion which has existed since the fall of the Communism and the rise of espionage being carried out by private firms working within the State (any State) intelligence apparatus. The effortless writing is, as always, a joy to read.
Profile Image for Stefan.
474 reviews53 followers
February 19, 2011
Absolute Friends was the story of a complicated friendship spanning much of the twentieth century. The psychological depth of this friendship was reason enough to read this novel. The issues discussed, events mentioned and locations described gave me much food for thought. The intelligent, well-paced and insightful story was gripping and authentic in the way few thrillers are today . But I was most touched by the power of the story’s cynical conclusion: it forced me to soberly consider the tremendous unforeseen implications of the War on Terror. Well worth rereading.
Profile Image for Laura.
98 reviews5 followers
August 26, 2012
I listened to this long book on CD on a trip and, though I found it interesting enough to finish listening to it, am pretty sure that, had I read it in book form, I wouldn't have had the patience to finish it. Starting out with the appealing depiction of a British spy living happily in retirement with a Turkish woman and her son while working as a tour guide in Germany, the main character--Ted Mundy--winds up being called back into action by his old friend and fellow spy, Sasha. The flashback which recounts their radical youth in Cold War Germany and then their career as spies for the British government and the Stasi, is extremely lengthy, made even longer perhaps by the fact that Sasha, though as important to the plot as Mundy, never becomes a fully-realized or sympathetic character in the book. Fast forward to the American war against Iraq after 9/11: Ted Mundy reluctantly reconnoiters with the still-idealistic Sasha to fight global imperialism as spies once again. The outcome is disastrous for the two men, but gives Le Carre the opportunity to vent his rage at American imperialism, the war in Iraq, and the complete moral bankruptcy of spying when, if you believe him, all world powers are in collusion against the forces of good.
Profile Image for Mizuki.
3,000 reviews1,208 followers
July 16, 2022
My review for A Spy Who Came In From the Cold: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Of course Absolute Friends can hardly be compare with A Spy Who Came In From the Cold, still I kinda like how Mr. le Carré shone some light into the post-Cold War spy scene, the main characters, they seem to be idealists who would dare to change the society with violent means, I really do like how the author wrote these people and their mindset. To me it's the best part of the story.

Overall, 3.2 stars.
Profile Image for Teressa.
292 reviews5 followers
August 13, 2012

As a huge fan of 1984, I appreciate many of the Orwellian themes Le Carre develops here. It was also interesting to read about Iraq from the position of hindsight (Le Carre published this in 2003). I enjoyed the careful character development of both Sasha and Mundy as much as I enjoyed the author's excellent, terse prose. Really, the man is a wonderful writer!

So why did I give this a three instead of a four? Or even a five? Le Carre's anger was palpable, to the point I felt he was proselytizing. A little restraint would have went a long way. I got tired of listening to long philosophical and political polemic,especially in the middle of the book, where I was sorely tempted to put the book down for good.

Happily, it was the only thing I had left to read at the beach, so I stayed committed. Although I had guessed the ending by the early 300's, I still loved the denouement of the final chapter. There are so many salient criticisms of our current cozy military-industrial complex that would make Orwell proud. Good food for thought for all Americans. Rarely has a book left me such a feeling indignation, despair, and futility.

I'm a sucker for a realistic ending, but if you like happy, fairy tale endings or clear distinctions between good and bad, this is probably not the book for you. If you like to explore moral, political, and philosophical grey areas-- and you can get past Le Carre's mini-tirades--then you will probably be a fan with some reservations, like me.
Profile Image for David Highton.
2,964 reviews14 followers
August 27, 2017
Another demonstration of how good a writer John Le Carre is - a narrative which spans forty years from the late Sixties onwards. The novel features Ted, a Pakistan-born Englishman who moves though a minor public school and a year at Oxford to join with student anarchist Sasha during a gap year in Berlin. In a later phase, Cold War espionage provides their continued relationship, and after a gap of 15 years they meet up again in a confusing alliance against US imperialism.
Profile Image for Shawn Callon.
Author 3 books42 followers
April 2, 2022
Another complex and typically ironic tale from John Le Carre. It's clearly a spy story with Ted Mundy and Sasha as two double agents working as a team from the time of the divided Berlin up until the second Iraq war but it's also subtly autobiographical. Le Carre resembles Ted in many ways - tall and gangly, fluent in German, worked in Germany, had a reprobate for a father, despised American imperialism, hated British colonialism, divorced his wife and worked for British Intelligence.

Overarching the whole book however is Le Carre's utter contempt for the USA/UK's coalition of the willing to invade Iraq in 2003. He lambasts the lies and the fabrication of the truth, the publication of misleading documents and the creation of ultra secret fake files by the Ministry "wool-spinners" in the British Government. Mundy (Le Carre) in 2003 gives us a glimpse of our future where the increasing power and influence of American corporations and their thirst for social control and limitless expansion leads to uniform thought, learning and constant conflict - very 1984! It's a world where the word 'liberal' is a term of abuse and where conflicts are waged by contractors.

A word of warning though - it's a long book and one could argue too long but I love Le Carre's wordy prose with its often ironic declamations at the end.

Shawn Callon, author of The Simon Montfort Spy Series, wrote this review.
Profile Image for Jake.
1,709 reviews53 followers
August 21, 2021
This is another review I'm glad I slept on. I really wish I liked it more than I did.

The beginning was great: two friends making their way across the chasm of time and space in the post-WWII Cold War Europe. Idealism mixed with low class status, the desire to create a better world but lacking in power to do so. Le Carré goes long on developing the lives of the two "friends", putting them in precarious situations and helping them learn about themselves.

I was hoping he would bend the arc well enough to the post-9/11 critique of the War on Iraq...but he just didn't. The ending felt rushed, the denouement came from a place of anger at the western imperial powers. And that's fine; the Iraq War should make you angry. But it didn't make for compelling reading. I understand the point Le Carré was trying to make but it felt like a duck given the first 300 pages of reading.

Le Carré would make many similar points in A Most Wanted Man and would do so more effectively.
Profile Image for Boadicea.
186 reviews56 followers
November 18, 2019
In this his 19th novel, John le Carre brings his superb skills as a master storyteller of the spy thriller genre; on this occasion, utilising the backdrop of the latter half of the 20th century referencing the Germany he knew so well in the Cold War. However, we are also treated to the story leading up to unification as well as the situation in 2003 when Germany opposed the invasion of Iraq by British & American forces in pursuit of supposed "Weapons of Mass Destruction ", when the novel commences.
We first meet the parody of a naive colonial Englishman, Ted Mundy, standing on a soapbox in a Bavarian castle working as a tour guide, wearing a bowler hat & an elderly tweed jacket, emblazoned with a Velcro-attached Union Jack flag to his breast pocket. He's broke, on the run from debtors of his defunct English language school after his partner, Egon, vanished with the assets, & thoroughly annoyed by the Gulf War. Then, out of the blue, his great friend, Sasha, arrives, to whisk him off on another idealistic adventure, but this one offers so much more....
But, as always with JLC, there is always so much more! There's a great backstory of a childhood spent in Pakistan after partition of India; a military father banished from the service following a court-martial; mother & twin sister who perished at birth; followed by a public boarding school education in the country, described as "a rain-swept cemetery for the living dead powered by a forty-watt bulb."
Then, his solace in German extension lessons from a left wing German refugee, which allows him to go to Oxford on a scholarship to read German. Here, he comes under the influence of a female Hungarian firebrand, Ilse, who espouses many radical causes. He becomes her willing partner to everything, including her bed.
He heads off to Germany for his 2nd year with an introduction to Sasha, Ilse's ex-boyfriend, in West Berlin, who is a leading light of the radical left student movement, living in a commune. Multiple adventures then ensue, not all involving the authorities, but he gets seriously "eingebläut" following 1 rally when he saves Sasha's life! i.e. he gets a full work-over by the West German police!
There then follows a 10 year hiatus in their friendship as they follow different directions with Ted failing in several career paths before he obtains a job at the British Council responsible for Youth cultural experiences. At which point, Sasha & Ted are re-acquainted with Sasha, again creating a change in Ted's career path...before perestroika causes the implosion of the East German Communist party, causing Sasha to disappear from Germany as an ex-Stasi agent & Ted is forced into early retirement from his espionage work.
I am not going to divulge the ending apart from to conclude that the familiar tragic themes of love, loyalty, loss & betrayal are present & I was heartbroken! It seemed appropriate that I was reading the last chapter listening to Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel.
Overall, this book is a great read, lighter in tone than others I have read by the same author but still offers plenty of gritty polemics on the politics of student movements in the 1960s in Europe. The shenanigans of the Iraq war & the manipulation of public opinion in its occasion is discussed as well as the pending threat of indoctrination by corporate militaristic organisations, all pertinent to the world still in 2019. i.e Blackwater, Chelsea Manning.
Probably, 4.5 stars for this one; but it will be re-read possibly in a couple more years rather than TLDG, which remains as the "gold standard "!
And yes, pretty please, make a film of it- Florence Pugh would make a great Ilse, I am sure that she could master a Hungarian flavoured English accent! Ideally directed by Joe Wright, score by Dario Marinelli in my ideal Utopian world!
Profile Image for David Lowther.
Author 12 books27 followers
August 5, 2017
Absolute Friends is one of Le Carré's best 21st. Century novels. Spanning a life time from the blood soaked streets of India and Pakistan after partition to the freezing Cold War before settling into the horrors of the war against terror, the narrative follows the fortunes and misfortunes of one Ted Mundy, Oxford drop-out, 60s anarchist, unqualified schoolteacher, British Council guide and spy. Mundy is a man you can't help liking, for all his shortcomings, yet you feel throughout that it won't end well for him.

What were his politics, left. right or centre? and who were really his masters? and was he a double or even triple agent? Much of the latter part of the story takes place against the backdrop of the US/UK led invasion of Iraq in 2003, reminding the British reader of the lies and tragedies which followed that most unnecessary of wars.

Mundy is not dim but neither does he have a spy's instincts and we spend pages, wondering like him, what is really going on? Le Carré, the finest writer of espionage fiction since the middle years of the 20th. century uses his acerbic prose with its usual ingredients of wit and sarcasm, to enthral us with a morality tale for the ages.

David Lowther. Author of The Blue Pencil, Liberating Belsen and Two Families at War, all published by Sacristy Press.
Profile Image for Clara.
386 reviews63 followers
February 8, 2018

The very first pages and the last ones were the best. But the middle was just meh. It was entertaining enough to keep me reading, but I thought about DNF it like four times. It reads fast though.

I didn’t like the characters, I wasn’t interested in what they talked about and I wish some things were explained better.

But I was told this isn’t his best books, and that some are great. So I’ll give them a shot.


Las primeras páginas y las últimas fueron las mejores. Pero todo el medio me pareció meh. Fue lo suficientemente entretenido como para seguir leyendo, pero pensé en dejarlo como cuatro veces. Lo bueno es que se lee rápido.

No me gustaron los personajes, no me interesaba lo que hablaban y me hubiera gustado que algunas cosas hayan estado mejor explicadas.

Pero me han dicho que este no es el mejor de sus libros, y que tiene algunos excelentes. Así que les voy a dar una oportunidad.
Profile Image for Denise.
6,597 reviews109 followers
October 24, 2019
Fiendishly clever, packing a punch, and with nothing as black and white as it might at first glance seem - exactly what one expects of John le Carré. While this decades-spanning story took a while to really get going, requiring a little more patience than some of his other novels, it certainly delivered in the end.
Profile Image for Patrick Clark.
Author 17 books9 followers
November 15, 2019
I liked the early John le Carre, but I'm getting tired of his sniveling about "hyperpower" America and his making up outlandish stories that I believe greatly exaggerate and demonize our intelligence and human rights failures. I submit this book, Absolute Friends, as the most glaring example of that I have read by a serious author in the espionage realm.
His virulent rhetoric about America reflects what I have heard and read from many Europeans. They're upset that in the aftermath of the war we helped win that we involuntarily emerged as one of the two superpowers and for decades helped protect Europe from Soviet aggression. They scoff at Lend Lease, the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift, our disproportional contributions to NATO and the UN, and the cost of bearing the burden of keeping the seas free, claiming they were all actions taken in America's own imperial interest. They are apparently enraged that after the fall of the Soviet Union, due to its totally bankrupt economic model and its invasion of Afghanistan, which in fact bears no resemblance of our involvement there, that we became the one "hyperpower" that seems to cause Mr. le Carre such heartburn.
Certainly America has made mistakes in its short history as a superpower. I spent time in Iraq and saw first hand how we screwed that one up. But our critics ignore European calamities they now want to brush aside as ancient history. America is now living and dealing with past European mistakes: the British drawing the Durand line down the middle of the Pashtun lands in Afghanistan to divide and conquer. The French and the British drawing capricious lines across the middle east that created the nation of Iraq to divide the oil fields after the First World War, lines that failed to take into account ethnic and sectarian enmities and required a brutal dictatorship to keep the contrived nation together. Then there was the partition of Palestine that plagues us to this day, the India-Pakistan partition that left millions dead in its wake, the Suez Canal fiasco, the charnel house in Algeria, and the part MI6 played in joining us in bringing down Prime Minister Mosaddeq in Iran that the Iranians still see as a casus belli for the low intensity war they continue to prosecute against the United States.
I'm done with le Carre. I'm going back to Graham Greene or Len Deighton whom I hope maintain the realism and cynicism without the rabid anti-Americanism.

Patrick Nolan Clark
author of The German Quarter
229 reviews5 followers
October 11, 2017
Absolute Friends is almost autobiographical; Le Carre, himself an agent of Cold War espionage, made a career out of writing spy thrillers and must have been as shocked as anyone by the sudden collapse of the Iron Curtain. Like the protagonist, the English ex-spy Mundy, he must have struggled at first to find himself in this wholly changed landscape, and perhaps struggled to come to terms with it. This book covers that transition from Cold War to War on Terrorism, looking at the world through eyes of complex and confused characters from the world of espionage. At times a gripping spy thriller, at times a slow pontification on 70s-era radicalism, but always brilliantly written and absorbing.
Profile Image for Gina.
89 reviews4 followers
January 6, 2009
Absolutely heartbreaking. Le Carre at his best--on a par with The Honourable Schoolboy, Little Drummer Girl, and Perfect Spy. Set in Berlin of the '60s, East Germany just before the fall of the Wall, and in the unified Germany just after the invasion of Iraq. Ted Mundy and Sasha, the friends of the title, find out that the rules of the game, post-Cold War, have irrevocably changed.
Profile Image for Kenneth.
792 reviews6 followers
July 28, 2023
I rate this novel as "average" considering the body of work accomplished by this master.
The story of the rekindled friendship between the two main characters held my interest, but the whiny politics of the two was rather grating.
I found the end came crashing down hard, but I wasn't complaining as that meant that the book was over.
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