I never thought I’d share an article from the Financial Times, but this interview of one of my favourite writers, John le Carré, is simply superb. For example:
The latest book – A Delicate Truth – is centred in modern Britain, on a supposed threat to national security and the use of dubious means towards a justifiable end; the challenge to an individual oppressed by the power of the state. It’s a political tale, appreciated across the political spectrum (über-conservative cabinet minister Michael Gove chose it as one of the Daily Mail’s “hottest reads” of the summer, even if it was “permeated with Leftie politics”). Like the reviewers, Gove probably didn’t pick up on the book’s strong attack on the secret courts for which his government voted (allowing matters of “national security” to be heard behind closed doors). Le Carré is greatly concerned about such courts, which undermine the rights of some individuals while making it easier for others to make the wrong choices. He “smuggles this kind of stuff” into his best-selling stories, conscious that subliminal influence lasts longer than a news story. There is a political agenda, born of personal experience.
Thus do many of his recent books draw on recognisable characters, with a serious political message. A Most Wanted Man (published in 2008, currently being filmed with the wonderful Philip Seymour Hoffman), concerns what he considers to be a gross overreaction to Islamic threat. It’s a “war on terror” story, drawing on the real events that befell Murat Kurnaz, a 20-year-old Turkish resident of Germany, whom le Carré has befriended and whose book (Five Years of My Life) also came out in 2008. Kurnaz was caught up in the post-9/11 events, detained, tortured, then incarcerated in Guantánamo for five years, despite the early recognition that he was wholly innocent.
“Come over and meet Murat,” le Carré said one day. So I went to his house, accompanied by my children, interested in meeting someone held at Guantánamo because he happened to be a Muslim in the wrong place at the wrong time. A few days later le Carré and I accompanied Murat to my son’s school, arranged at the last minute and supported by the headmaster, to meet a large group of lively north London schoolboys, a most fascinating encounter. Children, it turns out, are willing to ask the questions that adults are too polite to ask, seeking details about the food and toilet facilities, and asking him to re-enact various acts of torture.
P.S. Many thanks to Laura Cole for bringing this to my attention!