John Le Carré’s tenth novel, The Little Drummer Girl (1983), set the bar for tackling the passions and persistent complexities of the “Palestinian problem.” It presented the big picture issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by means of specific personal crises and moments of life-and-death will.
Fed up with cautious politicians and bureaucrats, Israeli intelligence officer, Martin Kurtz, gathers a small army of spies, malcontents, specialists, master operators-in-training, schemers, and fierce veterans of dark deeds behind the news headlines to craft an elaborate, complex mission to snare a Palestinian terror mastermind.
Kurtz’s most trusted associate is Gadi Becker, a seasoned warrior veteran of every Israeli success of the last 20 years.
At the heart of their scheme is Charlie, a bright, young, unresolved English actress of uncertain distinction. They attract her interest while she is on holiday in Greece with fellow troupers, a largely dissolute lot.
A dark mystery man she comes to know as Joseph (Gadi Becker) sweeps her off her feet and shows her a more intriguing and mysterious life. Soon, Charlie is brought into Kurtz’ fold and offered a chance to make a difference in the theater of the real.
Trained and prepared for the terrible loneliness of deep cover work beyond the protection of her elite team, Charlie becomes the bait that gradually attracts Khalil, the terrorist, to her in ever cautious, ever closing circles through a progression of dedicated soldiers of the Palestinian cause, each more adept and committed than the last. Finally, Charlie is tested by Khalil, who involves her in the assassination of a prominent Jewish intellectual.
Afterwards, when Khalil trusts her, and takes her for himself, he becomes distrustful and is about to kill Charlie when…
Casts a Spell
Rather than spoil the ending for you, I’ll stop there. If you haven’t already, read this minor classic of the spy genre. We have seen the effects of the irreconcilable claims by Israelis and Palestinians to the same small area of land astride the eastern Mediterranean. LeCarré brings the passions, vexing contradictions, and cultural imperatives alive. The characters are fully realized. The settings are sensory-rich. The plot has enough switchbacks and chicanes to keep the most demanding reader turning pages. And it casts a spell by hewing closely to emotional truth.
The Little Drummer Girl was published in 1983. Hodder & Stoughton (UK), Alfred A. Knopf (US). ISBN 0-394-53015-2 (US hardback) George Roy Hill directed the feature film adaptation in 1984, which starred Diane Keaton (Charlie), Klaus Kinski (Kurtz), and Yorgo Voyakis (Gadi/Joseph).