Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Last Card by Hans Hellmut Kirst

(Book Review)

Also published as "Death Plays the Last Card", this is an historical novel about everyone's favorite Soviet spy in wartime Japan: Richard Sorge. I became aware of this book while doing internet research for my Tombo Times article on Richard Sorge.

This is one of those old books long out of print, but fortunately in this day and age you can get anything off of Amazon. So, being a big fan of the historical novel, I thought it might be fun to read a fictional retelling of the life of Richard Sorge.

I've always thought historical novels were the most pleasant way to learn history, although it does leave you wondering how much is true and how much is not true. And I wish I was better informed on the life of Richard Sorge so that I could better distinguish this. As it is all of my knowledge on Sorge comes from either internet research, conversations with Shoko, or the Japanese movie "Spy Sorge". I'm hardly an expert.

However based on what little I did know, parts of this book didn't feel right to me. For instance I was led to believe that Sorge went to great lengths to make sure his cover as a loyal Nazi party member was flawless. The Sorge in this book is an outspoken critic of the Nazi regime, and even gets into fist fights with Hitler's supporters.
Which version is the truth? Alas, I'll have to leave that question to someone more knowledgible than me.

Although this book is set in Japan, it is not really a book about Japan. Similarly to "The Time of Dragons", this is a book which uses Asia as a backdrop to write a book about the espionage exploits of Europeans. However members of Sorge's Tokyo spy ring such as Yotoku Miyagi and Hotsumi Ozaki appear in this book.

Perhaps because this book was written by a German author (later translated into English) the book doesn't portray Sorge as simply a spy who sold his country to Moscow, but rather a patriot who tried to put Germany on the right course and had hoped to avoid the war by sending advanced warning to Stalin. Again how accurate this is will have to be judged by someone more knowledgible than me.

Still, a good read, especially if you like a good spy story.

Link of the Day
Right-Wingers Can't Cover Up Iraq's Death Toll Catastrophe

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