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About the Author
Date of Birth:January 8, 1935
Place of Birth:Brooklyn, New York
Education:B.A., Alfred University, 1956
Read an Excerpt
THE DEFECTION OF A.J. LEWINTERA NOVEL OF DUPLICITY
By ROBERT LITTELL
THE OVERLOOK PRESSCopyright © 1973 Robert Littell
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThere was a curtain of silence between the end of the play and the first ripple of applause. Distracted by the silence, Chapin let his attention drift from the balding American in the aisle seat.
It was his first lapse of the day.
Chapin was a fat man and he envied grace and poise the way a cripple admires athletic agility. He sat on the hard wooden chair breathing heavily, a massive form in the midst of the diminutive Japanese, and watched with almost sensual pleasure as the masked actors of the Kanze Noh Company glided soundlessly across the hashigakari bridge to the wings. Without understanding all its subtleties, Chapin was drawn to the Noh drama. He had never admitted that to anyone, for he recognized it as a strange obsession-especially for someone in his line of work. He wondered vaguely what had brought the American to the theater.
When Chapin glanced back at the aisle seat it was empty and his man was sprinting up the carpet toward the exit. Still caught up in the mood of the Noh, Chapin was reluctant to break the cobweb threads of imagination that bound him to the stage. Wearily, he pulled his bulky body over the legs of four Japanese and headed up the now jammed aisle towardthe lobby. For a man of his size and age, he moved rapidly. But by the time he reached the front steps of the theater, the American had disappeared into the river of people flowing through the streets of downtown Tokyo.
Chapin stood on the steps and threaded his fingers through his thinning hair. It was his first "fadeout" in years and his professional pride was bruised. Control would be furious. As he turned to search for a telephone, something caught his eye: the familiar profile of a man, framed in a window of a taxi pulling away from the curb.
Chapin squeezed into another taxi and told the driver: "Ano kuruma o otékure." In Japanese, Chapin thought, the phrase didn't sound quite as ridiculous as it did in English.
The two taxis, 100 yards apart, swung past Toronomon and the black wrought-iron gates of the American Embassy and struggled up a steep hill, caught in a jagged mob of cars and buses and tracks noisily converging on Roppongi. The early evening breeze blew through the open window against Chapin's face, and with it came the reddish dust from a torn-up stretch of road where a new subway line was being built. Chapin saw that his driver was enjoying the chase; with his forehead almost touching the steering wheel, he cut in front of a dump truck and put the car onto the rough bedding of the trolley tracks near the crest of the hill. Using only his left, white-gloved hand, he spun the wheel full left and broke into the small intersection of Roppongi Crossing. By now he was directly behind the other taxi. Chapin leaned forward and tapped the driver on the shoulder. "Kimi Wa, beteran no untenshu da né-That's nice driving."
At the far end of the crossing workmen wearing thick ocher-colored waistbands and bandannas on their foreheads strained against a stalled dump track. Drivers leaned on their horns as the traffic piled up. In the taxi ahead of Chapin, the impatient passenger stepped out, paid the driver, and edged between the two cabs toward the curb. As his face came into full view, Chapin realized that he had been following an American-but the wrong one.
Chapin paid his driver and hurried to the telephone booth in front of the Kinokuniya Supermarket. Before dialing, he unwrapped a piece of dietary chewing gum, popped it into his mouth, and rolled the tin foil into a ball, which he toyed with throughout the conversation.
The number rang twice. A man's voice said in Japanese: "Four-nine-nine-six-five-two-nine."
Chapin read off his own number in English and hung up. Fifteen seconds later the phone rang.
"Hey, George, this is me," Chapin said, wheezing nervously.
"Where the hell've you and Honeybucket been?" George said.
"In Marunouchi," Chapin answered. He tried to make the rest sound like an afterthought. "Everything's fine. Our friend just treated me to five and a half hours of Noh. Now we're in Roppongi. Honeybucket's across the street in an antique shop. I'll stick 'with him through dinner and tuck him in at the hotel."
Chapter TwoLewinter had lived through the moment a hundred times in his imagination, but it had never occurred to him that the guard wouldn't speak English. He looked across the glass-topped table at the obstinate, Slavic face and had to fight back the frustration and fear welling up inside him.
"Listen," Lewinter said again, this time more patiently, more respectfully, "I've got to speak to the ambassador." And he repeated the word three times, as if the mere repetition would make the guard understand. "I'm an American-ski," he added.
The two Japanese cleaning ladies scrubbing the marble floor of the embassy lobby looked up, curious. The guard, new to his job and still unsure of himself, hesitated. Finally, with a shrug, he picked up the telephone and summoned the duty officer.
Watching him dial, Lewinter felt some of the tension drain away. At last he was getting somewhere. For the first time, he took in the surroundings: the Japanese women, by now hard at work; the uniformed guard concentrating on a Russian newspaper; the small portrait of Lenin in a too elaborate gilt frame; the cracks in the marble floor; the chandelier with its dusty black electric wire coiling up to the flaking ceiling. It was not what he had expected. Not at all.
Tiptoeing over the still-wet marble, the duty officer, a small, brooding Armenian with thick eyebrows, came over and planted himself directly in front of Lewinter.
"Yes," the Armenian said, smiling and pointing at his watch, "since fifteen minutes, we are completed for the day."
"I must speak to your ambassador," Lewinter said, wondering how much English the Armenian understood. "I want to go to the Soviet Union."
"It is misfortunate," the Armenian said, "but the visa department completes at five. Re-try tomorrow after nine." "You don't understand me," Lewinter said. "I'm an American. I want to go to the Soviet Union permanently-to live there."
"Permanently?" the Armenian repeated, and searched for the meaning of the word. He found it, and understood it. He thought of a friend of his who once passed up an opportunity to buy some documents in Istanbul-and wound up franking stamps in Tbilisi. With a jerk of his head, the Armenian motioned to the American to follow him down the hall.
Left alone in a large, mildewy room jammed with overstuffed furniture, Lewinter settled into an easy chair with a broken spring and waited. In the last half-hour he had taken the most crucial step of his life, and yet the whole thing seemed ludicrous. He had planned the defection for months with his usual relish for detail-the trip to Japan, the pills, the shampoo, the X rays, the last-minute postcard to Maureen, even the book to read on the plane to Moscow. But somehow he had ended up on the set of a Hitchcock film-in a shabby embassy, in an antique room, in the midst of people who did not speak his language. He could almost see himself sitting there looking faintly uncomfortable, faintly ridiculous, staring at the high ceiling, crossing and uncrossing his legs, and wondering if he was being watched by someone other than himself.
Lewinter emerged from his thoughts and realized that he had been listening to the sound of men's voices. The door opened. The man who entered looked as if he had strolled off an American college campus. He had everything except the pipe between his teeth; thin and stoop-shouldered, he wore a bow tie, a beige button-down shirt, an open Harris tweed sports jacket with suede elbow patches, rumpled slacks, and a pair of loafers. His kinky hair was long and bunched at the sides and back; that and his high forehead made him look like an intellectual. His eyes were khaki-colored and there was something about them that projected the man's ironic cast of mind.
He smiled warmly and pulled up a chair next to Lewinter. "What high school did you go to?" he said in perfect English.
"What do you mean what high school did I go to?" Lewinter said, edging back his chair. He had a reflex suspicion of people who tried to strike up instant friendships. "First you keep me waiting half an hour, then you walk in with a question like that. Do you have the vaguest idea why I'm here?"
"Look, calm down," the Russian said. "It's only been twenty minutes. They had to get me back to the embassy. Anyhow, my question about the high school has a point. You can tell a lot about an American from the high school he went to. Take me, for instance. I went to Horace Mann. All the guys there were upper middle-class bourgeoisie-not exactly the kind of person you expect to see in a Soviet embassy after closing hours asking for political asylum. You see," he said, tapping his forehead and laughing, "I do know why you're here-and I'm always thinking. Watch out!"
Lewinter couldn't help but warm to the Russian. "What were you doing at Horace Mann?" he asked.
"My father, good Communist that he was, worked his way up the Soviet Foreign Service to Riverdale," he said. "He was attached to the UN Secretariat for six years. What high school did you go to?"
"Bronx High School of Science," Lewinter said, surprised to find that he wanted to answer the question.
"Aha!" the Russian said, slapping Lewinter's knee. He pointed a finger at him in mock accusation. "Petit bourgeois, intellectual, I.Q. of at least one thirty-five, not very good at sports, didn't have sexual intercourse until you were in college-if then. I'd say you were Jewish, except you don't look Jewish. How did I do?"
"Fine except for the sexual intercourse part," Lewinter lied. He turned serious: "We could argue the merits of Bronx Science over Horace Mann all night-but I haven't got all night. I've figured out my chances very carefully. Either I get out of Japan on your eight o'clock plane or I'm probably not going to get out at all." He pulled out his pocket watch and clicked it open. "I've got two and a quarter hours left. I've got to speak to your ambassador."
"I suspect that my ambassador is the last person you want to see," the Russian said. A smile spread across his face. "He's great at cutting ribbons, but he passes on his serious problems to me. If you're a serious problem"-and here he put the palms of his hands flat against his chest-"I'm your man."
Lewinter believed him.
The Russian took a small green notebook from his breast pocket and uncapped a felt-tipped pen. "Now that I've broken down your defenses with my spontaneous charm, it's time, for the real Yefgeny Mikhailovich Pogodin-that's my name-it's time for me to reveal myself. Sitting before you is a man who is one-quarter Marxist, one-quarter humanist, and one-half bureaucrat." His pen hovered over the notebook. "Your name?"
Lewinter felt as if he was in the hands of a painless dentist. "A. J. Lewinter. Initial A, initial J, capital L, small W."
"What does the A stand for?" Pogodin asked.
"Augustus. The J's for Jerome. But I only use the initials."
"Well, Mr. initial A initial J Lewinter, age?"
Pogodin looked up. "What do you do in Cambridge?"
"I'm an associate professor at M.I.T. and a specialist in ceramic engineering. For the last four years I've been working on ceramic nose cones for the MIRV Program."
The Russian jotted down Lewinter's answer in his notebook, then lingered over the page, rereading what he had written. Without looking up he asked: "What brought you to Japan, Mr. Lewinter?"
"The ecological symposium at Waseda University. I delivered a paper there yesterday. When I'm not working on nose cones, I'm a bug on ecology. A couple of years ago I developed a scheme for a national solid-waste-disposal system. Its potentials are fantastic. It involves collecting solid waste in regional centers for processing and recycling. Would you believe, with our problems in America, I couldn't get a rise out of Washington-even though I proved on paper that the entire system would amortize itself in thirty-five years." Lewinter paused. "Am I going too fast for you?"
But Pogodin had stopped writing.
"Why do you want to go to the Soviet Union?"
"How can I even begin to answer that question?" Lewinter said. "I could tell you about the deterioration of the American dream-the pollution, the crime, the political corruption, the isolation of intellectuals, the drugs, the repression of dissent. But there's another reason. I'm part of that famous military-industrial complex. I've lived inside it. I know what I'm talking about. My country is in the process of constructing a first-strike nuclear arsenal. And as sure as we're sitting here some general in Washington is going to suggest we use it. I want to give you parity so that they won't be tempted. I want to give you MIRV."
It suddenly occurred to Pogodin that he was dealing with an insane man. In Pogodin's world, intelligence operations were long, tedious affairs in which hundreds of people labored over scraps of information, constructing a single piece of a jigsaw puzzle that might-perhaps-fit into some larger picture. Strangers didn't walk in off the street and offer you the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And yet ...
"Let me tell you what's going through my mind," Pogodin said. Having interrogated hundreds of people, he had long ago discovered that candor was a powerful weapon-more so because it was the last thing in the world people in Lewinter's position expected. "If you have what you say you have, it would be an important break for us. And you would naturally find us very grateful. But people don't walk in off the street with this grade of information. So I am obliged to consider the other possibilities.
Excerpted from THE DEFECTION OF A.J. LEWINTER by ROBERT LITTELL Copyright © 1973 by Robert Littell
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Table of Contents
|III||The Middle Game||145|
|V||The End Game||251|
|VI||The Passed Pawn||277|
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
One of my favorites and I generally do not enjoy spy/espionage novels. An easy read too but keeps your interest with twists and turns. EAF
This is subtitled "a novel of duplicity" and it sure is. The notion is an American scientist defects to the USSR. The question is, is this a good thing or a bad thing, and who is it good for and who is it bad for? The double, triple and quadruple blinds as to the legitimacy of the defection are dizzying. Cute, subtle gotcha at the end.
A.J. Lewinter is a scientist with a specialty in ceramics, working at MIT on a project about ceramic nosecones for ballistic missiles, and as the book opens, in Japan for a conference. After spending some time at a Noh theater performance, he goes to the Russian Embassy, where he makes it known that he wants to defect. At first, they do not take him seriously, but when questioned further, he offers up a formula and the next thing you know, he's on a plane for the USSR with nothing but a dozen bottles of Head and Shoulders shampoo and 500 Chlor-Trimetron allergy pills. And here begins a story that is a bit of a mind boggler. The book is structured like a chess game, and within that structure the actions of international agents also play out like a chess game, each side trying to make the other side guess as to whether or not a) Lewinter's defection is genuine, or b) whether or not the information he has to offer the USSR is worthless or priceless. I won't say more about the plot, because any info would totally wreck someone else's reading experience. The world of espionage is fascinating, and I'm sure that a lot of the tactics used in this book have some basis in fact, because it's really difficult to believe someone could just make up the convoluted machinations of our intelligence operatives. The writing is absolutely superb and I was not prepared for the ending. I spent way too much time trying to figure out "what would happen if..." after I finished the book. To me, that speaks highly of the author, and now I can't wait to get my hands on more by Littell. As if the tbr pile wasn't huge enough already -- sigh--. Definitely recommended; I'd say that people who enjoy novels of espionage, the Cold War, and the inner workings of our intelligence agencies would enjoy it the most.
An uneven spy thriller, but thanks to its careful construction, still above average. An American scientist defects to the Soviets; both American and Soviet intelligence analysts work to decide how to respond. The first half of the book is a farce that asks who's fooling whom. The story is baroque, encrusted with red herrings. About halfway through, it turns altogether darker, and ultimately scraps the first question, asking instead, can any victory in the espionage game possibly justify the collateral human cost. That final indictment is about the only thing this book has in common with Le Carre. Littell has a real gift for dialogue, but he's also a sucker for making his characters quirky, which makes it fun to watch them fun from the outside (as in a comedy), but harder to take their interior lives seriously (essential to get the emotional impact of a tragedy). The contrast between the first and second half of the book makes me wonder if this is a rewrite of a first draft that originally kept the light, screwball tone throughout.
We started listening to this audio book on our way south from New Jersey to Florida and tried to get into the story with the first three discs, but gave up. We found the story unexciting, the writing boring and wordy, and ultimately felt "who cares?"