The author’s first editor, circa 2003

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  • Micro-Review #26: The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life

    This is more of a eulogy than a review. I went to see LeCarre give a talk at the University of Warsaw in the early 1990s. He had recently stopped feuding with Salman Rushdie over The Satanic Verses, and he had a reputation as a crusty old know-all who couldn’t care less about people. The lecture was brilliant, and afterwards many of the attendees went to a screening of the movie version of The Russia House. I left the movie early (had somewhere to go), and the man himself was standing outside the doors waiting to talk to whoever might come out.

    I sheepishly introduced myself and ended up talking for maybe half an hour. During this, I noticed he was holding a notebook with a list of email addresses. Old Mr. Curmudgeon was offering to read the novel drafts of the young writers at the movie. He asked me what I wrote, and he offered to find me an agent. Not once did he talk about himself unless I insisted on it. And he wasn’t in Warsaw to promote a book. He gave the talk because a professor of international relations had reached out to him. I mention all this because the image of the tweed-wearing elitist has to go away. The man made a point of helping writers and students.

    As for The Pigeon Tunnel, it’s a charming memoir of times and people in his life. There are thought-provoking descriptions of his (non)relationship with his con-man father and of being a young spy in Bonn. There are also amusing anecdotes about movie people like Alec Guinness and Sidney Pollock. Don’t expect a window into LeCarre’s soul. Instead, enjoy the collection of reminiscences of a life very well lived. R.I.P. Reviewed on Dec. 14, 2020

  • Micro-Review #25: The Monk of Mokha

    The true story of Mokhtar Alkhanshalia, a young Yemeni-American who works as a doorman in San Francisco but dreams of bigger things. Mokhtar sets off for his ancestral homeland to revive the coffee-making traditions of the past. This may not seem wise when Yemen is descending into civil war, but dreams are powerful things, and Mokhtar’s energy is both engrossing and inspiring. The odds are stacked against him, but as with most things in life, the rewards come in the journey itself, not in the destination. Reviewed on Dec. 10, 2020

  • Micro-Review #24: The Return of the Player

    The sequel to the 1988 novel that became the famous Robert Altman film. Studio exec Griffin Mill is back, and he’s still Gordon Gekko with an introspective streak. For him, greed is not only good; it’s the yardstick by which all good things are measured. This is a guy who will literally kill to keep his kid in private school—and he’ll justify it as part of the larger game.

    You’ll like this book only if you’re into chaotic interior monologue, half-page sentences, and words like “ensorcelled.” The strained metaphor-making is enough to wear down even a patient reader, but the immodest cleverness plays into the story’s satirical ethos. Free-range self-importance may be gross to look at, but then so is everything else in the world—unless it’s brightened up by the presence of a whole lot of money. Reviewed on Dec. 3, 2020

  • Micro-Review #23: House of Sand and Fog

    A young woman loses her home. An Iranian immigrant buys the place for a song. She wants it back. He wants to restore his dignity and provide for his family. These people are hanging on to the last thread of the American dream. It might sound dismal, but the characters are affecting and true. Loss, pride and desperation make for gripping conflicts, and Dubus is a master at portraying realistic shades of gray. People are not either good or bad; they’re not one thing at all times. We can see ourselves in these wounded souls. Reviewed on Nov. 26, 2020

  • Micro-Review #22: The Exorcist

    The movie is brilliant. The novel on which it’s based is even better. First published in 1971, this horror masterpiece ages well despite its melodramatic flourishes. While the premise—a demon takes up residence in an 11-year-old girl’s body—might make some discerning readers roll their eyes, the book has plenty to interest cerebral types, with an intriguing focus on psychology and a clear love of Jesuit faith. It will also scare the bejesus out of you. One of the best books in the genre. Reviewed on Nov. 19, 2020

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