Visions Of Germany In Literature: John Le Carré

For many visitors to Germany, their first pictures of the country come to them through books and stories.

Even when you decide to live in Germany, you get influenced by the way the country looks in books. You may be moved to visit a new town, see a particular structure, or avoid a certain area all thanks to the words of a single writer.

For Germany, one writer has had a very profound effect on how the international community has viewed the country not just physically, but mentally. John Le Carré, a British author specializing in espionage books and suspense thrillers, set a significant number of his books in Germany. As best sellers, his books were the first experience of “real” German life that many people had, and the later movie adaptions have furthered his influence on the popular mind.

This makes it a pity that so many of his books were so very dark.

Although he has been honored with many awards and is critically regarded as having created a philosophically significant alternative to the glamorized James Bond world of the spy genre, his themes are not uplifting. In most cases, everything is morally clouded, and an aura of sadness, gloom, and hypocrisy hangs over his characters.

This gloom bleeds over into his descriptions of Germany. Its weather is cloudy, cold, and foggy, except for when it actively rains or snows. Buildings are drab when they are not ugly, and people are indifferent when they are not antagonistic.

Nothing is easy, nothing is fun, and the best you can hope for is to be left alone and die quietly in the distant future.

Although interesting, it’s quite depressing, really, and nothing like the real Germany. John Le Carré needed to create a certain mood for his books, and he didn’t need it to showcase all of the vibrancy and color of true German life. So he painted a very careful picture of the country, not realizing that later tour operators would put his checkpoints, government offices, and shoot-out sites into movies and tours.

The best antidote for the image in his work is to actually come to Germany. Hike the green hills, enjoy the sunshine, and talk with the people. Experience for yourself the sharp difference between fiction and reality! ;-)

—Marcus

 

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