Misha is an aristocratic young officer in the army when the Russian revolution sweeps away all his certainties. Tonya is a nurse from an impoverished family in St Petersburg. They should have been bitter enemies; and yet they fall passionately in love. It cannot last, and Misha must flee the country as Tonya faces arrest and possibly death.
Thirty years later, Misha has survived the War and seeks to rebuild his life in the destroyed city of Berlin. Drawn into spying for the British, he learns of a talented female agent from the Soviet quarter. Can it be his lost love? And how will they find each other, as the divide deepens between East and West?
This was an interesting book for our group as there were mixed opinions which created a few discussions and debates in our meeting.
As a reader of Harry Bingham I had been looking forward to reading this book for some time. Although I did enjoy this novel, I found it written in a different style to previous books which I wasn’t quite expecting. In some cases, less is more, and we are left with many a few questions that we have to answer ourselves. For me, this wasn’t a problem, but for my group they found this book a little harder to enjoy as they couldn’t quite get the feel for the characters and setting as it seemed to skim over issues which my group would have loved to have explored in more depth.
Overall, the group felt that as a book it was lacking in depth and detail, but could actually see it making quite a good TV series! There is an awful lot of scope with this book and we would have loved to read more about the finer details of the story, but on a whole we did manage to discuss a few burning issues arising from the novel and had a few questions from the author to help us on our way.
Here are the questions Harry kindly sent over for our meeting:
- What is this book about? Ultimately about, I mean – the way that Spy Who Came in From the Cold is ultimately a book about love & betrayal, not about spying.
- Why is Willi there? What does he add? What about Rosa?
- The second world war has a huge profile in the British imagination, but we almost always forget about the aftermath in Germany. How did the book change your view of the war of Germany?
- What about your perception of Russia?
- This book is a romance, a love story. Structurally speaking, it’s got loads in common with any Jane Austen – or indeed to any Barbara Cartland. But it’s also massively different in some ways – what ways? And does it work for you?
I haven’t included our answers as I wouldn’t want to put any spoilers in here, but if you also read the book how do you think you would have answered these questions?
Harry also kindly answered five questions that arose from our meeting. Here are the questions and answers:
1) Would you class this as a love story or a spy story? (We felt that it was one or the other rather than both, but we are keen to hear your view.)
It’s a love story first and foremost. No question.
2) What inspired you to write this book?
Um. Not sure. I think I was drawn to the challenge of writing a romance and liked the Russian/German settings.
3) What (if anything) would you change about the story now?
Nothing really. I’ve moved on since then, but the story is what it is.
4) Where did you do your research?
Books. One of the most useful things was personal memoirs and diaries, especially of the post-war German stuff. It was finding out what people ate, where they lived, etc.
5) What similarities do you see in this book to authors such as Jane Austen?
Structurally, this book is pure Pride & Prejudice. You can take every structural element in P&P and find it’s corollary in TLL, and vice versa. The cute thing about TLL is that it takes the “winter of hope” present in any romance and stretches it out to massive proportions. So in P&P, the winter of hope starts when Lydia elopes with Wickham and ends when D’Arcy has launched his rescue. So maybe a week or two, and a few pages. In TLL that period lasts 25 years, stretches geographically from Berlin to Vladivostok and takes in 2 world wars, the Great Purges, prison camp, &c &c &c. It’s a massive distortion of the traditional structure …. yet still replicates that structure exactly.
I would like to say a big Thank You to Harry for taking the time to provide the group with our book group questions, and also answering our five questions from the meeting too.