Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Tailor of Panama

John le Carré clearly had a lot of fun writing The Tailor of Panama, which is spy novel as farce. If you don't want spoilers then stop reading, because it's hard not to discuss it without giving it away. Not, mind you, that it is particularly intricate. There is a nod to Graham Greene's Our Man in Panama, which le Carré makes explicit in the acknowledgements.

Harry Pendel is a British tailor in Panama City in the 1990s, and a British spy shows up at his door to recruit him. The spy has something on him, so he needs to cooperate. He doesn't have much to tell, so he starts making things up: foreign threats, a Silent Opposition, betrayals, all of them false. As he makes things up, London and eventually Washington get excited. And, in fact, it leads to another invasion.

Sound implausible? Well, it is, but it's great reading, brimming with sarcasm, but also full of obvious affection for the Panamanian people and contempt for those who lead them.

Great Men in Panama have gorgeous black secretaries in prim blue bus-conductress uniforms. They have panelled, steel-lined bullet-proof doors of rain-forest teak with brass handles you can't turn because the doors are worked on buzzers from within so that Great Men can't be kidnapped (p. 9).

While much of the book is quite funny, the end is not, as it shows a reflection on the fact that Panama has always been tossed about according to the whims of the U.S. (in this case with the British alongside). Harry had suffered tremendously during the 1989 invasion as he watched Panamanian friends seriously abused, and watched again as Panama City was pummeled, knowing he had played an unwitting role in causing it.


  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP