Those who are familiar with the spy novel will immediately recognize Robert Littell as the author of The Defection of A. J. Lewinter (1973) and one of the masters of the genre, a distinction that places him in the same league as John le Carre. The Company: A Novel of the CIA, unlike other tales of espionage, balances the cloak-and-dagger aspects of spying with an informative and entertaining examination of the culture within the Central Intelligence Agency.
Reaching nearly 900 pages in length, The Company is nothing less than an epic history of the Cold War, the period in which the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics tried to undermine each other without resorting to nuclear weapons. One reason why Littell’s novel is so effective is the skill with which he blends such historical events as the Cuban Missile Crisis with the lives of his fictional characters. Those invented personalities range from the profane, alcoholic head of America’s Berlin Base, Harvey Torriti, to the pedophile who runs Soviet counterintelligence, the man known only as “Starik.”
What ultimately makes this massive work so enjoyable is the decades-long search by the CIA for the Soviet mole, Sasha, who has infiltrated their organization and who has leaked secrets to their Cold War foe. Appropriately, Littell highlights the surreal atmosphere of espionage by using quotes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland (1865) and by linking this book with Starik’s intricate plans against the CIA. Though the Soviet Union is a thing of the past, Littell’s novel lets the reader know what the world was like when that outcome was still uncertain.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist 98 (February 1, 2002): 927.
The Economist 364 (August 10, 2002): 75.
Kirkus Reviews 70 (January 1, 2002): 11.
Library Journal 126 (December 1, 2001): 173.
The New York Times Book Review 107 (May 12, 2002): 25.
Publishers Weekly 249 (February 18, 2002): 71.