Monday, December 14, 2020 1:19 pm
By Nehru Odeh
John le Carre, the British espionage writer is dead. He died of pneumonia, after a brief illness, his literary agent of 15 years, jerry Gellner has said. He was 89.
However the remarkable thing about this writer who Gellner described as an undisputed giant of English literature who “defined the Cold War era and fearlessly spoke truth to power”, is that he wrote not only about his experiences as a secret agent but also about the intrigue and espionage that characterized the cold war. He was once a member of the MIS and M15.
And he ended up becoming the bestselling authors of masterpieces such as The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Several of his 25 works were turned into movies such as The Constant Gardener, The Tailor of Panama and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, while the Night Manager became a successful BBC television series. Graham Greene hailed The Spy Who Came In From The Cold as “the best spy story I have ever read.”
However, a more intriguing fact about this writer who had a first class degree in Modern Languages, after an interrupted stay at Oxford is that he never knew his mother who abandoned him at five until he was 21.
And he was never in good terms with his father, Ronnie, who was jailed for insurance fraud and made and lost his fortunes several times due to elaborate confidence tricks. Still, le Carre turned that misfortune into fortune as it was one of the factors that led to his fascination with secrets.
Another intriguing thing about this writer is that he was born as David Cornwell but chose John le Carre as his pseudonym, the name that later stuck and by which he was known by.
le Carre, who married twice once said: “I have been neither a model husband nor a model father, and am not interested in appearing that way.”
“We will not see his like again,” Gellner said in a statement. “His loss will be felt by every book lover, everyone interested in the human condition.
“We have lost a great figure of English literature, a man of great wit, kindness, humour and intelligence. I have lost a friend, a mentor and an inspiration.”
A statement on behalf of the author’s family said: “It is with great sadness that we must confirm that David Cornwell – John le Carré – passed away from pneumonia last Saturday night after a short battle with the illness.
“David is survived by his beloved wife of almost 50 years, Jane, and his sons Nicholas, Timothy, Stephen and Simon.
“We all grieve deeply his passing. Our thanks go to the wonderful NHS team at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro for the care and compassion that he was shown throughout his stay. We know they share our sadness.”
Paying tribute to le Carré, author Stephen King said in a tweet: “This terrible year has claimed a literary giant and a humanitarian spirit.”
And historian and novelist Simon Sebag Montefiore described him as “the titan of English literature” and said he was “heartbroken”.
Historical fiction writer Robert Harris said he was “one of the great post-war British novelists” and “an unforgettable, unique character”.
Actor Oldman, who appeared in the 2011 film of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, said le Carré was “a very great author, the true ‘owner’ of the serious, adult, complicated, spy novel” and was “always a true gentleman”.
Author Margaret Atwood tweeted that the Smiley novels were the “key to understanding the mid-20th century”.