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[193] The Spy Game – Georgina Harding

spy“There are different kinds of memory, conscious and unconscious. There are memories that the conscious mind goes over repeatedly, that are recalled, observed, caught like a snapshot of the time, and oneself in it, one of the figures in the picture. Memories like these become like history, fact-filed for recall, detached from emotion. But there are others that come back without conscious thought and that are experienced again, more or less vividly, like dream versions of themselves.’ [254]

Rumor had it that the Russians were placing spies in the West from the moment the division of Germany occurred after May 1945. Even at the end of the Second World War they were planning for the next one, training agents and placing them through the Allies’ countries. These spies live in their covers, awaiting a message from Moscow (or the spy ringmaster) to activate them.


On a freezing January morning in 1961, in London, Anna and Peter’s mother dies in a car accident. Since the adult world shrouds the loss in silence, and that their father, who is an English lieutenant colonel, tidies the issue of death away along with the things that their mother left behind, neither the eight-year-old girl nor her older brother believe that is the truth especially with the news of the Krogers’ espionage case. Knowing their mother was German though born in Russia, they investigate a family friend who was incarcerated in a Japanese POW prison and the suicide of a German piano teacher in order to validate their theory that their mother was a Russian spy. Their father’s clandestine work during the war also supports the theory.

There. That’s where she was buried. . . . I always meant to bring you two here sometime. Perhaps it should have been before, I don’t know. At the time it seemed best to keep it simple. We didn’t want a fuss. A fuss wouldn’t have been a good thing, would it, at the time? [230]

The novel is written in a way that promotes a sense of confusion that is natural of unreliable memory, which changes and slips over the year. The narrative rotates between the past and present and sets against the realities of history and race. Juxtaposition of perspectives, although renders reading more difficult and mandates re-reading passages, duly contemplates that one can never be sure whether a belief comes from memory or from imagination. Thirty years later, Anna heads to Berlin and Konigsberg (Kaliningrad), Russia to seek the truth, as she struggles to sort between fact and fantasy, instead of admitting the reality. Georgina Harding weaves together loss, history, love, memory and imagination to illuminate the significance of letting go.

We never did. There was no sequential reality to add to this interlude, which came to memory later in disconnected images like snapshots or a dream.” [34]

ARC. Scheduled to release April 2009
310 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]

One Response

  1. “The novel is written in a way that promotes a sense of confusion that is natural of unreliable memory, which changes and slips over the year”… I love this sentence. Although not necessarily a novel about memory it did remind me of The Unconsoled by Ishiguro which kept me a bit confused throughout and wondering about the reliability of the narrator.

    Anyway, this book is another for my list. Thank you for the review!

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