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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 571

Smiley’s People brings to a satisfying conclusion the battle of wits that has been going on between Smiley and Karla for many years. Smiley is called out of retirement to help the Circus investigate the recent murder of a former Soviet army general living in exile in London. The general...

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Smiley’s People brings to a satisfying conclusion the battle of wits that has been going on between Smiley and Karla for many years. Smiley is called out of retirement to help the Circus investigate the recent murder of a former Soviet army general living in exile in London. The general had been in contact with a Russian woman living in Paris who had recently been approached by Soviet agents with an offer to allow her daughter to leave Russia and move to France. Smiley deduces that the general was assassinated because the old man suspected that Karla was only using the woman’s daughter to create a false identity for some young woman he wanted to send to France. Smiley goes to the European continent to investigate. Smiley appears as a major or minor character in many of le Carré s earlier novels, but Smiley’s People is the first book in which the reader is able to develop a full appreciation of his talents as a secret agent. He is in grave danger because Karla can have people murdered by agents in any country of the world and would certainly eliminate Smiley if he suspected that the British secret service agent was trying to unravel his secret.

Karla had an illegitimate daughter named Tatiana who is now in her early twenties. Tatiana is a schizophrenic, and Karla has had her secretly moved from Russia to a sanatorium in Switzerland, where she can receive better treatment. The nuns who operate the sanatorium know virtually nothing about her. Karla sends money to pay for her treatment via a minor official named Grigoriev. Karla must keep this a dark secret because his enemies in the Kremlin could destroy him if they could show he was using the Soviet diplomatic and espionage apparatus to further his purely personal interests. Smiley gets damaging information about Grigoriev’s adulterous affairs and forces him to become a double agent, promising him safe asylum in Australia. Through the terrified Russian diplomat, Smiley sends a confidential letter to Karla, offering him a carrot-and-stick proposition: If Karla will defect to the British, he will receive asylum and Tatiana will continue to receive high-quality psychiatric care; otherwise, Smiley will expose him. Karla will be executed, and his daughter will become a charity case without money, friends, or even an identity.

At the appointed deadline, Smiley and his assistants wait in the fog. If Karla crosses the bridge into West Berlin, it will be the greatest triumph in the history of the Circus. They will be able to learn everything about Soviet internal and external affairs. Suspense mounts as minutes tick by. Finally Karla, disguised as a working man, crosses the bridge, hesitates, and then delivers himself into British hands.

Characteristically, Smiley is not exultant. He feels ashamed for using Karla’s genuine paternal love to destroy his archenemy. One of le Carré’s major concerns in all of his novels has been the destruction of human values by the clash of godless ideologies. Smiley realizes that he has not really defeated Karla because he has not proved that Western values are superior to those of Communism. Furthermore, Smiley cannot help but reflect that Karla destroyed his relationship with Ann, condemning him to a life of loneliness, and that in a sense Karla destroyed Smiley as a human being long before Smiley was able to do the same thing to Karla.

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