Friday, 7 November 2014

Another list for which there's no definitive answer ....

Wall remnant
Up on the Telegraph's website today, timed to coincide with the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall over the weekend, is an interesting little feature: the top ten Cold War novels.

Like all these lists - not really the most imaginative approach from the journalist, Jake Kerridge - there's no definitive answer and that creates often some great postings in the comments section where fans of different authors argue over which deserve their place and which not.

Len's work Billion Dollar Brain is Kerridge's surprise choice (surprise for me in that, most journalists will often pick Funeral in Berlin or The Ipcress File from this series). There are some other well-deserved choices but, as some commentators remark, where is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy?

It's all very subjective, and I guess that's part of the fun. So ..... what would you change?


  1. My 3 choices of cold war novels
    I consider “From Russian with Love” novel as mainly a Bond novel by Fleming, because to me the cold war setting is at its best when its context was the two parts of Germany then. Based on this logic, my choice of 2 best cold wars novels are 2 and 3 below.
    1. From Russia, With Love by Ian Fleming
    Read the novel in 1958 when I was in the university as a student. It was primarily a Bond novel and in my opinion not strictly a cold war novel in the sense that no cold war dynamics- bluff and counter bluff, no elaborate deception from the two sides. Characters easily get into fights to provide action, typical Bond genre.
    2. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré
    I was always interested in pre-and post-war Germany. Read the novel in 1963. Well written, and brings out the essentials of a cold war thriller. I was impressed with Le Carre’s grasp of the cold war basics as well as the knowledge of the two parts of Germany which was so subtly spun into the novel.
    3. Funeral in Berlin by Len Deighton
    Read the novel when it was published in 1964, interested in post WWII, in particular about the dynamics of the intriguing activities across the East Berlin and West Berlin. As I finished reading the novel, to me, Deighton had the best knowledge of Berlins and of cold wars amongst all the authors who wrote about cold war settings in Germany. This novel and the film produced so much interest about Berlins that when an opportunity arrived to submit a technical paper in East Germany for a conference later in 1970s, I jumped first at it.

  2. Further to my first post:
    Billion Dollar Brain Versus Funeral in Berlin
    In regards to Billion Dollar Brain, while reading the novel in 1966, I could not believe what I consider to be a serious flaw in the novel core- given the computer technology then – (I was involved with computers at that time,when the mainframe versions were emerging), the cluster of computers used in General Midwinter, would not have produced the kind of computing power needed for the purpose. The novel had the characteristics and the context of a cold war film until Leo brings in the computer. There after, its shine as the cold war novel vanishes, and a kind of Bond –like context emerges when Palmer meets General Midwinter. One could see a parallel to Bond-like villain extraordinaire there with a grandiose plan hatched by the General. Besides, to me, a cold war novel found its profound resonance with us, the avid readers , when its setting was in the two parts of Germany . Funeral in Berlin published earlier ticks all the boxes for a cold war novel.

    Given his almost unparalleled knowledge of two parts of Germany then, I wondered why Deighton did not write a proper novel sequel to Funeral in Berlin, instead of being contented with the cameo appearances of Colonel Stok in Billion Dollar Brain.

  3. Just to add to the above two:
    The DT Posters for that article suggest Martin Cruz Smith novels which were essentially mystery novels, a few involving a Russian detective. As for The Fourth Protocol by Forsyth suggested there, it was a novel in the Bond novel mould or General Midwinter mould, involving a dogged villain- a KGB major who was plotting something big. Interesting that Forsyth was heavily involved in its film version blaming the producers for messing up the film versions of his earlier 2 novels: The Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File. He argued that this film not deviating much from the novel would be welcome by his readers as they would relate the film well with the novel. Whilst, the films, The Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File were a success, The Fourth Protocol film was a failure! Indeed, the former two novels were gripping read- I sat one whole day to finish each of them when they were published. On the other hand, Forsyth injecting and stretching the plot with action scenarios (just the way Fleming did in “From Russia with Love”), in The Fourth Protocol, pushed it well towards a Bond genre, almost the same way Deighton did in the Billion Dollar Brain.
    I would agree with many DT posters that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy should have appeared in that list. I agree that it is arguably the quintessential cold war novel.

    Finally, in this 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall which was well marked by the speech by Gorbachev ( who ended the cold war by shunning the Wall) near the Brandenburg Gate, no other novel better resonates the East West divide, the divide of Berlin in all its facets in that cold war period than “ “The Funeral in Berlin “. I experienced this divide briefly during my visits to both Berlins then as the Wall loomed uncomfortably large menacingly near, even when I away from it.
    Gorbachev knows fully well that the “ the New cold War” as he says was felt by Londoners in the same way as the “Old Cold War” by West Berliners then, albeit for a brief period, when Litvinenko was admitted to the University College Hospital in November 2006, with a mysterious illness which later found to be induced by the administration of Polonium -210.