Liviu's Reviews > Waltenberg: A Novel of Espionage

Waltenberg by Hédi Kaddour
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's review
Jun 30, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: mainstream, 2008_release_read
Read in July, 2008

This is a superb but somewhat difficult novel that is written in a literary style that jumps points of views, tenses, and modes of narration in the same phrase so it requires constant attention.

Ostensibly a novel about spies and containing several such, it is much more than that, ultimately I think that at its core is the philosophical debate of the Cold war and the obvious and definite failure of communism.

But it has so much that it is hard to summarize, there is a Malraux vignette that is worth reading the novel for, digressions on many other writers and philosophers, on the colonial North African wars in the 20's and 30's, on the pathetic attempts to form a United States of Europe in between the wars.

At the core of the novel there are 5 characters and their complicated relationships told in time jumping chapters, moving in between 1914, 1929, 1956, 1965, 1969, 1978, 1991. There are 2 opposing veterans of WW1 that become great friends, French journalist Max Goffard who knows everyone that's anyone and was present at many historical events, and German writer Hans Kappler a Thomas Mann like figure who tries to stay neutral in the great war of ideas. Linking them the mysterious American classical singer Lena - the lost love of Hans when he decides to go to war in 1914 rather than stay with her in Switzerland, or maybe it's the other way around, she left him and then he went to war - whose voice is the least heard, but whose deeds thread the novel.

And then there are the "young ones", Michael Lilstein a Jewish-German communist, survivor of Auschwitz and Stalin's gulag and later a master spy for the GDR, met and befriended by Max in 1929 when he was 16, and called "my young german" by him, and the mysterious "you", a disillusioned French communist who at age 19 after the events of 1956 is recruited by Lilstein - and referred to as "my young frenchman" - and then using confidential information from Lilstein becomes an invaluable aide of the French president. The identity of the "mole" is the big red herring of the novel, though it's quite obvious after a while.

The ending is superb and overall this is one of the best novels I've read in a long time.

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