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The Cold War Spies of Novelist Ian McEwan

Sweet Tooth, Ian McEwan’s 2012 novel, combines romance, espionage and autobiography into the author’s usual bittersweet cocktail of plot and emotion.

Newer fans of McEwan may not realize this is not his first foray into the Cold War world of intelligence work. 1990’s The Innocent involved an English telephone engineer drawn into the intrigue of Cold War Berlin (along with the clandestine emotional plotting of his first sexual relationship).

Both Cold War novels include a character associated with British intelligence who’s actually a Soviet agent. In the first book, the character is an actual person, British intelligence officer George Blake. In the book as in real life during the same years, Blake is a respected English agent working with the CIA on one of the most important secrets of the era — “Operation Gold,” a tunnel from West to East Berlin to tap into Soviet communication lines.

The outcome of the tunnel operation in the book — with amusing, tense and disturbing McEwanisque twists — is even more suspensful than the actual events. But those actual events have the makings of their own book, probably a thriller.
The CIA has now declassified many records of the operation. Check out the previously secret documents at the link below:
CIA Report on “Operation Gold”

Probably the most controversial issue remaining is whether the Soviets used the operation to send disinformation to unwitting American analysts. You might be surprised by what the CIA concluded, based on analysis of specific intelligence collected. See some of it at the link below:

Intelligence Revealed by the Tunnel

Then there’s the film version (check it out on the right)… The script, by McEwan himself, is directed by John Schlesinger (“Midnight Cowboy,” and, as a reference for thriller fans, “Marathon Man”) with a cast that includes Anthony Hopkins and Isabella Rossellini.

So, when you’re done with Sweet Tooth and don’t want to go into “McEwan withdrawal,” jump right into The Innocent.

PS If you need still more, check out Solar, McEwan’s hilarious take on celebrity, vanity and climate change; and Enduring Love, a close-to-home book that’s less gruesome than The Innocent but more chilling.

BlakeIn November 2012 George Blake resurfaced in Russia, where he fled after a dramatic prison break in Britain. He appears to relish his role as a famed double agent and even received a medal from Vladimir Putin in recent years.