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Publisher's Summary

"Out of the secret world I once knew, I have tried to make a theatre for the larger worlds we inhabit. First comes the imagining, then the search for reality. Then back to the imagining, and to the desk where I'm sitting now."

From his years serving in British Intelligence during the Cold War, to a career as a writer that took him from war-torn Cambodia to Beirut on the cusp of the 1982 Israeli invasion to Russia before and after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, John le Carré has always written from the heart of modern times. In this, his first memoir, le Carré is as funny as he is incisive, reading into the events he witnesses the same moral ambiguity with which he imbues his novels. Whether he's writing about the parrot at a Beirut hotel that could perfectly mimic machine gun fire or the opening bars of Beethoven's Fifth, visiting Rwanda's museums of the unburied dead in the aftermath of the genocide, celebrating New Year's Eve 1982 with Yasser Arafat and his high command, interviewing a German woman terrorist in her desert prison in the Negev, listening to the wisdoms of the great physicist, dissident, and Nobel Prize winner Andrei Sakharov, meeting with two former heads of the KGB, watching Alec Guinness prepare for his role as George Smiley in the legendary BBC TV adaptations, or describing the female aid worker who inspired the main character in The Constant Gardener, le Carré endows each happening with vividness and humor, now making us laugh out loud, now inviting us to think anew about events and people we believed we understood.

Best of all, le Carré gives us a glimpse of a writer's journey over more than six decades, and his own hunt for the human spark that has given so much life and heart to his fictional characters.

©2016 John le Carré (P)2016 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"John le Carré offers listeners a delightful treat with an engaging narration of his memoir.... Listeners may feel as though they are nestled into a wingback chair with a glass of Scotch, sitting across from the great storyteller himself and hearing him recount amazing encounters from around the world. His Russian accents are as perfectly delivered as his deadpan humor. Whether or not listeners are familiar with le Carré's fiction, his memoir is captivating and exciting. Settle in and enjoy the smooth, velvety sound of a master as he delivers his own story." ( AudioFile)

What members say

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 09-16-16

A Global Literary Treasure

"if you were reporting on human pain, you had a duty to share it"
- John le Carré, quoting a dictum of Graham Greene, in 'The Pigeon Tunnel"

First, a disclosure, I was given this book by Viking Books. These types of offers I typically refuse. I don't like feeling under obligation to review or even read a book just because it was given to me. I might do it for friends, but even then, I am VERY picky about what I read. I have thousands of unread books and thousands of others I that are on my radar to read. I usually feel a bit like Melville's Bartleby, aroused only to the level of wanting to reply "I would prefer not to.". But this is John le Carré. Anyone who knows me knows I'VE been pimping John le Carré books for years. My goal is to be a le Carré completest by the end of next year (I still have yet to read The Night Manager, The Tailor of Panama, Absolute Friends, Our Game, or The Naive and Sentimental Lover) but there is a sadness that comes with finishing, with having no country left to visit or no book left to read. I, however, own them all. Often multiple copies. So, how could I refuse a free le Carré? Also, so I wouldn't feel completely like I was writing for free books, I also went out to purchase the Audiobook so I could listen to le Carré talk about his own life.

Surprisingly, this is le le Carré's first memoir. That both feels a bit strange and a bit right. First, le Carré is a master at timing and also understands when is the proper point to introduce a character and how much to show. John le Carré, the pen name for David Cornwell, is often reluctant to do interviews (their is a bit about that in this book) and is a bit publicity shy. He isn't Pynchon or Salinger for sure, but the energy of pimping his stuff and his reluctance sometimes to delve into the narrative of his own life (he worked for awhile for both MI-5 and MI-6) and his relationship with his father seems to be something he is often reluctant to discuss. Ironically, these two issues feed his fiction heavily. His father and his relationship with his father's ghost seems to push through most of his fiction. So, too, obviously does le Carré time as David Cornwell the spy. There is a thin, unbleached muslin shroud between fact and fiction (le Carré talks about his in this book). Perhaps le Carré's greatest book, A Perfect Spy, which Philip Roth (yes, that Philip F'ing Roth) once called "the best English novel since the War" was grown out of David Cornwell's relationship with his own father.

The memoir itself is filled with anecdotes and loosely goes from past to present, but also breaks time's arrow to describe certain relationships with certain people or movies made of his books. I loved especially the parts of this book where le Carré writes about Graham Greene and the craft of writing. I knew le Carré got around, but after reading the memoir, I can safely say he belongs with George Orwell, Graham Greene, William T. Vollmann, Paul Theroux family of adventure writers whose fiction is informed from the trenches. They don't just know where some bodies are actually buried, they may have seen the corpse AND the murder.

So, why only four stars? Because I'm judging this book against his best fiction. This is a fun memoir and a very good le Carré. Again, going back to how this is his first memoir, I wonder why now? I hope he is not done with fiction. I hope this is not him saying, I'm done. He is in his 80s, and after he is done, I'm not sure what to do. We have been waiting for 400 years for another playwright to equal Shakespeare. How many centuries will we have to wait for another le Carré. Dear GOD, I fear too long.

24 of 28 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A wonderful reader from a favorite author

John LeCarre is the only author to whom I've written a fan letter, though it was never sent. He manages to entwine action, intrigue, deeply woven plots and complex character with such lyrical prose that at times over the years I would have to stop and just take a breath at such a powerful line, or paragraph, or concept. His biography is no exception, & listening to his narration made the book that much more enjoyable. My hope- shared, I'm sure- is that this beautiful mind continues to flourish for many, many more years. A wonderful book, and magnificent performance.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • garyyac
  • New Market, MD United States
  • 11-07-16

Disappointing

Le Carre is one of my favorite authors and I have read literally all his books, I am pretty sure. But this loose collection of memoirs is pretty dull stuff. Turns out that an author I truly adore is a boring windbag as a raconteur. Not sure where all the 5 star reviews came from, but I have a feeling that some of his other fans are giving him a pass on this one.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Le Carre should narrate all is books!

A wonderful memoir - more a collections of vignettes from the authors life and work than a chronological biography. But the stand out for me is what a terrific narrator John Le Carre is. I hope he will consider narrating all his books.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Memories from a great novelist

John le Carré (the pen name for novelist David John Moore Cornwell) has had a long career. He turned 86 last week, but started writing in the late 1950s. He most recent novel, a sequel to The Spy Who Came In From the Cold was released in September.

Part of what interested me from the reviews of The Pigeon Tunnel was how le Carré knowingly plays with the idea of memory. Several places he suggests that his recounting is what he remembers, but then comments that others remember the situation differently.

In one of the later chapters, mostly about his father, he says that he paid two investigators to give background on his father. He wanted to write his memory of events and then have the ‘actual’ events as recounted by the investigators on a corresponding page to show the difference. The investigators were not able to find the level of detail that he needed to carry that idea out. But that hint of how le Carré views memory and reality give a sense of what he was trying to do in this memoir.

Le Carré can tell a story. As I was reading or listening (I alternated back and forth between Kindle and Audiobook with le Carré narrating the audiobook), I was almost always engaged. But I would put it down and not be super excited to pick it up again. So I spent several weeks working through The Pigeon Tunnel.

As with almost every memoir there are people and stories that are mentioned that hold great importance to the author that do not quite get communicated to the reader. Some of the name dropping went completely over my head.

But I thought the end of The Pigeon Tunnel was especially good. His discussion of his father (a con man who spent time in jail and was wanted in many countries) was particularly insightful and interesting. That led to a discussion about his own education being covered at one point by a rich friend because his mother disappeared when he was a child and his father was unreliable (and a crook). Because of the friend loaning him the money, le Carré was able to finish his education and get the job in the intelligence world which led to him become a novelist. In a similar way, le Carré connects a story of him helping someone else to become a doctor by loaning him the money for his education. Those types of stories about how we are related, matter. Le Carré’s stories are often cynical, but not everything about him is cynical.

In the end, I am glad I picked up The Pigeon Tunnel. There are a number of stories that show where inspiration for a character or a scene or a book came from. Many of those books I have not yet read. But I am inspired to pick up more of his books. That being said, I think for many people, I would recommend his novels over this memoir. If you have not read many, or any, of John le Carré’s novels, I would recommend you start there, probably with The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. For those that have read many of his novels, this is probably worth picking up.

AUDIBLE 20 REVIEW SWEEPSTAKES ENTRY

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 11-05-16

Engaging

This autobiography/memoir by John Le Carré is a series of short stories told from memory. He also states in the book the following: “I’m a liar…born to lying, bred to it, trained to it by an industry that lies for a living, practiced in it as a novelist. As a maker of fictions, I invent versions of myself.”

Le Carré tells of being inducted into MI5, as a junior officer in 1956, at the age of 25. He moved to MI6 in 1961 and left the service at age 33. Le Carré tells of friendships with poets, politicians, pies, actors and crooks around the world. Some of the stories are humorous. Some of the names he drops are Nobel Winner Joseph Brodsky, Yasser Arafat, Kim Philby to name a few. The author tells of an unhappy childhood and he did not get along with his parents. Le Carré also provides some information about writing, which I found interesting and insightful.

The book, of course, is well written. I was disappointed that the book was so light weight and insubstantial. But on the other hand, I always enjoy reading Le Carré.

Le Carré narrates his own book which is a delightful treat.






2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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the master in his own voice looks back

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

JLC provides the back stories to many of his novels (real-life characters who inspired his fictional characters such as Leamas, Smiley, and others). Also, his travels and the research underlying some of the stories are discussed. Many amusing anecdotes re: meeting various luminaries such as the British PM McMillan, the president of Italy, Fritz Lang and various encounters with the movie industry.

Who was your favorite character and why?

the author himself and the author's father

Which character – as performed by John le Carré – was your favorite?

Mrs Thatcher

Any additional comments?

A must for all
Le Carre devotees!

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Short and disjointed

I am a great fan of the author. However this book is a disjointed collection of unrelated short recollections. Nothing particularly interesting that gave me any greater knowledge of John LeCarre.

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Brilliant, insightful writing by a brilliant, man.

No autobiography is ever completely honest but Le Carre's assorted tales of some of the most colorful moments of his life comes about as close as one cane hope.

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Outstanding for Le Carre lovers

A collection of brilliant, pithy, humorous, reflective, elegant, and efficient short memoir essays that address some of the sources for David Cornwell’s works of fiction. Read by the author in beautiful voice, well produced, calmly paced (just as he writes), easy to follow and rewarding to the listener.