Robert Harris: An Officer and a Spy



I heard the whip crack twice The driver shouted a command The wagon accelerated free of the mob turned left and disappearedAn instant later the order was given for the parade to march past The stamp of boots seemed to shake the ground Bugles were blown Drums beat time As the band struck up Sambre et Meuse it started to snow I felt a great sense of release I believe we all did Spontaneously we turned to one another and shook hands It was as if a healthy body had purged itself of something foul and pestilential and now life could begin anew pp 12 13Both papers have the degradation on their front pages the Journal indeed has almost nothing else Its report is illustrated by a series of crude sketches of Dreyfus being marched into the parade ground of the plump little official in his cape reading out the udgment of the insignia being ripped from Dreyfus s uniform and of Dreyfus himself looking like a white haired old man at thirty five The headline is The Expiation We demanded for the traitor Dreyfus the supreme penalty We continue to believe that the only appropriate punishment is death It is as if all the loathing and recrimination bottled up since the defeat of 1870 has found an outlet in a single individual pp 21 22 This rendition of the Dreyfus affair recounts how one of those men who at first was as convinced of Dreyfus guilt as anyone became his preeminent backer and defender after discovering his innocence The book s main character the titular officer and spy is not Alfred Dreyfus but Georges Picuart who is both that defender and the narrator Picuart s character development as well as what will happen next constitutes a big part of the thrill in this historical fiction since after all the reader is likely to have some basic knowledge of the historyI didn t know though about the backdrop of the public as Greek chorus ravening for Dreyfus blood because of who he was the story with Dreyfus as guilty party perfectly meeting society s needsI didn t know how to think about the French army in those days either Today I heard an American military chief giving a news conference He was so careful at each turn to defer to the Secretary of Defense The French army in the last five years of the 19th century was like the Egyptian army the way we think of it today No doubt that s a clumsy analogy but the army was France The army couldn t have a traitor and if it did that traitor had to be someone who was not really French And once the traitor role had been assigned the needs of the army took precedence over any other truth So we see what it s like to go up against power why everybody says he or she would have spoken out about the child abuser within the sports or religious monolith or any other wrong within a power structure and why mostly that doesn t happen You want my advice Well here s a story When my regiment was in Hanoi there was a lot of thieving in the barracks So one day my major and I we laid a trap and we caught the thief red handed It turned out he was the son of the colonel God knows why he needed to steal from the likes of us but he did it Now my major he was a bit like you a little bit of the idealistic type shall we say he wanted this man prosecuted The top brass disagreed Still he went ahead and brought the case anyway But at the court martial it was my major that was broken p 227 Once we think we have the solution to some puzzle or crime that s all we can see We have on blinders We are virtually blind to other possibilities Especially if part of what we can see has to do with how our bread is butteredI m currently in the midst of another book Plato at the Googleplex Why Philosophy Won t Go Away in which the current topic is morality Does politics dictate what the good is That was certainly the overwhelmingly majority opinion in circa 1895 FranceThis book has got me comparing and contrasting scapegoat versus salvific martyr Intermixed with the expiation of evil theme is Picuart s reference to Dreyfus degradation as his Calvary Later after Picuart has become convinced of Dreyfus innocence he is reflecting on the heaping on of abuse he reads of Dreyfus experiencing in his solitary confinement on Devil s Island I have seen what the chafing of leg irons can do to a prisoner s flesh cut it to the bone In the insect infested heat of the tropics the torment must be unendurable p 229 It seems that behind the Garden Bouquets and Beyond judges in every court in which Dreyfus is tried is a painting of the crucifixion or the likeIs the difference between scapegoat and martyr dependent on the perspective of the viewer Is it okay for the needs of a society to trump truth andustice if the role of the martyr is as sacrificial lamb rather than scapegoat In that case do those needs dictate morality Does politics rule Or as my other author says was true for Plato is it the other way around does morality dictate what politics should beBefore I started reading I felt like avoiding this book I had recommendations for some actual histories rather than historical fiction But after reading a number of Goodreads reviews about those other possibilities I saw that those other books were heavy historical tomes and it ust wouldn t do to take on another one of those bogged down in several as I already am So An Officer and a Spy it was And I must say it was uite a read fast and enjoyable Thriller lovers will love it plus it s well written And as I say thought provoking too I m going to say 4 12 stars and round up to 5For information here s Adam Gopnik writing in The New Yorker on Dreyfus from 2009 25 2014 This article taken from current events in eastern Ukraine so reflected the feeling from the degradation of Dreyfus as communicated by Robert Harris that I decided to include the linkSeptember 5 2014 An Officer and a Spy won the 2014 Walter Scott Prize a British literary award for historical fiction I see from the Wikipedia entry that Robert Harris also won for one of his previous booksMay 8 2015 The Spring 2015 issue of Jewish Review of Books contains three articles dealing with antisemitism in France because of current events the Charlie Hebdo killings and attacks on Jews there One of the articles is about this book An Officer and a Spy which recently has been released in paperback The other two articles aren t locked and I ll see about posting them later in appropriate spots Unfortunately this one is locked Here s the link but I don t think nonsubscribers can open it so I m going to hit the high points if I can Also in the past I ve been able to make and email a pdf author Steven Englund says that post Charlie Hebdo etc people are looking to An Officer and a Spy for understanding of current day France which he says is unfortunate Also he says the ordinary understanding of the Dreyfus affair boils down to the targeting of a Jewish army officer by an antisemitic society He says it wasn t that simple and it wasn t so much religious as political He cites three factors The army and the republic were in a sort of reactionary state of bluster and reactionary nationalism after the military drubbing of 1870 The church state rivalry had been ramped up again with Catholics thrown into a defensive posture leading to grassroots antisemitism over the affair although not from the Catholic hierarchy itself And finally the Third Republic was too weak to deal directly with crises As a resultThe Affair became politicized then highly politicized as it became clear that all sides on the contentious French public scene could use it to do their old business destroying each other s reputationsEnglund denies that the Affair and obsession with it contorted all France He says Drumont was the sole major French antisemite with a bunch of adolescent and n er do well followers who have been mistakenly writ large by hisotry He says anti Jewish riots were small affairs that don t measure up to what we imagine He says their main success was in projecting the myth that the Army s reputation was tied to that of a few criminal. They lied to protect their country He told the truth to save it A gripping historical thriller from the bestselling author of FATHERLANDJanuary 1895 On a freezing morning in the heart of Paris an army officer Georges Picuart witnesses a convicted spy Captain Alfred Dreyfus being publicly humiliated in front of twenty thousand spectators baying 'Death to the Jew'The officer is rewarded with promotion Picuart is made the French army's youngest colonel and put in command of 'the Statistical

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Painful to read keeping in mind that these characters were actual people and their heartbreaking struggle was real I became attached to the characters I celebrated every victory and mourned every loss along with Picuart I felt like I was there through it all The back cover of the book calls the Dreyfus affair an epic scandal that continues to resonate today it is a sad commentary on the state of affairs of a government which valued political image over ustice It has been a while since I ve felt such strong emotions for a book and it almost seems to me that every book I read after this one is going to be dull in comparison So of course HIGHLY RECOMMENDED 45 stars There are occasions when losing is a victory so long as there is a fight This is an excellent work of historical fiction based on a real life man of honor and duty French Army officer Georges Picuart and his determination to uncover the truth surrounding the arrest and conviction of Captain Alfred Dreyfus in what is considered to be one of the greatest udicial debacles in history While France was still stunned by the victory of the Germans in the Franco Prussian war in 1870 hostilities distrust and anti Semitism were all heightened within the military and the people of the republic at the time this novel takes place the 1890s As a Jew an officer within the army and a man to be secretly envied due to his independent wealth Captain Dreyfus was an easy target to accuse of treason when French secret intelligence discovered a traitor in their midst Major Georges Picuart was not immune to the feelings of bitterness and prejudices at the time of Dreyfus s conviction Having personally witnessed Dreyfus s military degradation which was attended by citizens and servicemen alike Picuart was only too glad to put his former student out of his mind once and for all I had no desire to see the condemned man again Only two years earlier he had been a student of mine in this very building Now I had nothing to say to him I felt nothing for him I wished he had never been born and I wanted him gone from Paris from France from Europe Picuart even gets a promotion to Colonel following the degradation and conviction and is assigned to the position of commander of the Statistical Section the secret intelligence branch of the French Army Despite the fact that Picuart does not relish espionage something he considers dirty work he resigns himself to his new post and devotes himself to his new responsibilities When Picuart unearths a spy in their midst he will begin to meticulously probe into the details of the Dreyfus case himself When a series of mistakes and subseuent cover ups are revealed Picuart is forced to choose between his reputation and career or the pursuit of ustice In this pursuit Picuart learns that he will not have the support of the army and he too will fall under suspicion as his loyalties to the army are tested The thing is I have no wish to destroy my career Twenty four years it has taken me to get this far Yet my career will be pointless to me will lose the very elements of honour and pride that make it worth havingAn Officer and a Spy is an extremely riveting account of the Dreyfus affair as it came to be known the people involved Before reading this book I d had a vague idea of a so called Dreyfuss affair After reading it I was full of respect for Dreyfuss who showed stamina during the trial and even for his ability to survive his isolation Robert Harris did a wonderful Zu schnell job I loved this audiobook One of the best historical fiction spy thrillers I ve read in a long timeHighly recommend5 out of 5 stars In 1898 the French newspaper L Aurore printed an open letter from writer Emile Zola Under the banner headline J accuse Zola accused the government of anti Semitism and the unlawfulailing of French Army officer Alfred Dreyfus The letter caused a huge a uproar as Zola pointed out the serious errors in the case against Dreyfus who had been packed off to the notorious Devil s Island in French Guyana and a lack of serious evidence to back up the chargesThe Dreyfus Affair as it became known was a part of European history that had passed me by up to this point But in this dramatisation viewed through the eyes of Georges Picuart the head of a French clandestine intelligence unit Harris brings events surrounding this famous miscarriage of Sleepless (Bird of Stone, justice to life Dreyfus had been found guilty of passing secrets to the Germans but Picuart starts to believe there s something seriously wrong when he stumbles across another army officer who he believes is the real spy in the camp The dialogue is of course simply the authors way of bringing the story to the page but the events and the identity of the historical players are we are led to believe historically correct In fact the whole thing is broken down into what constitutes a forensic examination of all the key components It s comprehensive and it s compellingHarris really does this sort of thing so well I do like a bit of history and when it s served up in this style it really does make the consumption of a protracted and complicated event so much fun Excellent stuff I m off to seek out of his work Who should read this book All who love spy novels All who love mysteries and thrillers All who are interested in the Dreyfus affair All who are interested in issues concerning anti Semitism All who enjoy GOOD historical fiction All who would enjoy a book set in Paris in the 1890s All interested in mile Zola or his essay J accuse All who want books that deliver historical facts in an engaging manner All who need a book that focuses on people that are willing to place themselves in danger for a cause they believe in Keep in mind that Georges Picuart was a real person and of course Dreyfus and Emile Zola and Picuart wantedustice to achieve ustice he was willing to put himself in danger sacrifice his own career and even life How many people do that This book is an anti depressant when you are you are feeling down and outand for those of you who love audiobooks with excellent narration David Rintoul s reading is simply superb The icing on the cake You do not have to meet all the criteria above any one of the criteria above is sufficient reason to choose this book Do you hear my enthusiasm I absolutely loved this book I have a new hero Georges Picuart What an amazing man The topic of the book is interesting The author turns historical figures into people you feel empathy for The author presents historical facts and never are they dry He starts the book with a brief explanation of what is fact and what fiction He draws the feel of Paris in the 1890s And of course there are love affairs soir es the gas lights and the ever present stench of the sewage rats and filth It is all here To top it all off David Rintoul speaks French as the French do the names the streets the buildings the suares Men AND women his intonations are perfect for both You have never heard his narrations That is another reason to choose this audiobook simply to hear the marvelous narration I loved this book and it restored my faith in the genre historical fiction which had been going down the drain The ending is magnificent too sorry I keep thinking of things I must mentionAnd Georges Picuart I ADORE him What happened to Dreyfus is a must know but it should have been called the Dreyfus Picuart affair There is no such thing as a secret not really not in the modern world not with photography and telegraphy and railways and newspaper presses The old days of an inner circle of like minded souls communicating with parchment and uill pens are gone Sooner or later most things will be revealed Captain Alfred Dreyfus s mugshotGeorges Picuart was as convinced of Captain Alfred Dreyfus s guilt as anyone else in 1894 In fact for the invaluable service he provided during the affair he becomes the youngest Lieutenant Colonel in the French military He is also promoted to head the Intelligence department not the Pite official warnings Picuart persists and soon the officer and the spy are in the same predicamentNarrated by Picuart An Officer and a Spy is a compelling recreation of a scandal that became the most famous miscarriage of ustice in history Compelling too are the echoes for our modern world an intelligence agency gone rogue ustice corrupted in the name of national security a newspaper witch hunt of a persecuted minority and the age old instinct of those in power to cover up their crimes.

Officers Eventually forthcoming disclosures and support empowered a craven and weak government to act and presently the Affair endedThe preceding paragraph may not be too clear to me but the following is The Affair as we think of it was a later construction It didn t turn on the Jewish uestion but on the rights of the state raison d tat versus those of citizens civil rights It gave the much much antisemitic countries of Austria and Russia talking points against France France was democratic and eventually did the right thing but also had citizens who took polemical advantage of the freedom of expression there All the Christianity derived European countries of that time period where characterized by antisemitism with far less in the French Third RepublicI don t think Englund intends his article as an apology for antisemitism in France so if what you read here looks that way it could be me I think he wants to avoid an oversimplified rendition and would like to get that straight before piling further analysis on top of what s thereSteven Englund is the author of Napoleon A Political Life It is highly regarded particularly in France and Englund has a Wikipedia page in French but not in English He s currently working on a book that compares political antisemitism in Germany Austria Hungary and France Robert Harris isn t an author I have read before but I decided to read this on the recommendation of a family member whose opinions I value I enjoyed it immensely Basically this is a fictionalized re telling of the course of the Dreyfus Affair from the perspective of Col Georges Picuart the intelligence officer who originally blew the case open I knew about the Dreyfus Affair in outline before reading this but I knew nothing of the detail As a result this read like a thriller novel to me and a real page turner at that Had it been ust a thriller though I would have dismissed the plot as implausible The rabid anti Semitism of the French General Staff and the depths to which they were willing to sink to cover up their crimes would have seemed unbelievable had I not known this was basically a true story presented as fiction The fact the events portrayed really did happen to Dreyfus and Picuart meant that at times I found this uncomfortable to read such was the level of injustice they sufferedI suppose that in writing this the author s Invisible (The Curse of Avalon job was made easier by the fact that he did not have to invent a plot but I think the decision to base the story around Picuart was a good one since it allowed the novel to build around his investigation which initially was into a case he thought was unconnected and the fact the plot is based on real events does not detract from the uality of the writingBravo Picuart Like many people I am aware of the Dreyfus affair that took place in France in the late 19th century but my knowledge was mostly peripheral I knew that Alfred Dreyfus was a French soldier who was accused of spying on France for the Germans I was born and raised Jewish so it was also part of my heritage to recognize the persecuted Jews of the past Harris s novel awakened my understanding of the political and social climate of that period in history and informed me of how this colossal miscarriage ofustice was authorized permitted concocted And the blatant antisemitism of the time sanctioned the demonization of DreyfusI am an avid novel reader and historical milestonesevents stick better if it is chronicled in a novel where I can engage with the characters and narrative structure Harris s book both edified and entertained me on the Alfred Dreyfus affair It alternated between reflective and dramatic action as the author constructed a suspenseful spy story that also happened to be credible He states in the Author s Note that he used his imagination to dramatize some events invent personal details and cut out some figures entirely However he remained faithful to the truthGeorges Picuart the principal character and narrator is a Major who served at the cole Militaire as a professor of topography Dreyfus had been his student a few years back After he attends Dreyfus s degradation ceremony stripping of his military honor the Major receives a promotion to Colonel at 40 he would be the youngest and directed to command the Statistical Section espionage Espionage is grubby work he thinks Everything I have seen of the Dreyfus case has reinforced that view It isn t what I oined the army to do However as a patriot and devoted army officer he has no choice but to accept Early on we learn that Pacuart played a minor role in Dreyfus s apprehension but Harris teases the facts out gradually providing an air of mystery that heightens as the story progresses As Pacuart uncovers sinister lies and conspiracies related to the Dreyfus case he begins to keep his own counsel and demonstrates what an adept spy he really is The fallout from that threatens his career and possibly his lifeOne of the most intriguing characters in this story is Dreyfus himself As described by Harris inability to observe social cues poor eye contact idiosyncrasies lack of facial expression and impaired social communication he would likely be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder if he lived in contemporary times This is not stated in the book autism is my professional specialty and I recognize the traits Is this relevant Possibly so as it made him unsavory to the French public beyond his Jewishness He failed to elicit their sympathyThis is my first Harris book It took me a few chapters to engage he isn t literary his prose is plain spoken and sometimes ust plain However his pacing is excellent and the structure is measured and tight Ultimately the prose works and nuances deepen It s a subdued nail biter by a superb storyteller Incredible Just brilliantI would not hesitate to call An Officer and a Spy a masterpiece My love for history spies and conspiracies have without a doubt placed this book in my favorites shelf It was so gripping and I was so engrossed that I lost track of time forgot that I d planned to go for my og and ended up emotional eating a bag of chips insteadA retelling of the Dreyfus affair I wouldn t recommend clicking on the link if you don t want this book to be spoiled for you but if you aren t worried about that then this scandal is incredibly interesting a conspiracy within the French Ministry of War that led to the most famous miscarriage of ustice in history when Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully convicted of being a German spy in 1894 and exiled for life to Devil s Island An Officer and a Spy is told from the perspective of an army officer Major Georges Picuart who was a part of the team of officers that submitted documents proving Dreyfus s guilt In January 1895 Dreyfus was publicly humiliated at his military degradation and then deported to serve his sentence Due to Georges Picuart s dedication during the above affair he was promoted to the position of Colonel and made commander of the Statistical Section of the Ministry of War that dealt with military intelligence Having always been convinced of Dreyfus s guilt when new evidence came to light Picuart was forced to revisit the case and investigate the so called proof that convicted Dreyfus in the first place Doubts began to form in his mind and when he finally stumbled upon the truth he was tasked with the difficult responsibility of convincing the army of the French Republic to admit they had made a mistake Robert Harris s narrative skills are brilliant I admit that the fact that it was a true story and the scandal was an interesting one played a major role in me enjoying this as much as I did but it would not have been possible if it hadn t been for Harris s talent as a writer He has managed to put forth immensely complicated and chronologically confusing events in the simplest and most intriguing way possible Dreyfus s imprisonment Picuart s plight and their subseuent hardship have been depicted with such raw emotion I found it. Ection' the shadowy intelligence unit that tracked down DreyfusThe spy meanwhile is given a punishment of medieval cruelty Dreyfus is shipped off to a lifetime of solitary confinement on Devil's Island unable to speak to anyone not even his guards his case seems closed foreverBut gradually Picuart comes to believe there is something rotten at the heart of the Statistical Section When he discovers another German spy operating on French soil his superiors are oddly reluctant to pursue it Des.

characters ☆ E-book, or Kindle E-pub ✓ Robert Harris

ROBERT HARRIS is the author of nine best selling novels Fatherland Enigma Archangel Pompeii Imperium The Ghost Writer Conspirata The Fear Index and An Officer and a Spy Several of his books have been adapted to film most recently The Ghost Writer directed by Roman Polanski His work has been translated into thirty seven languages He lives in the village of Kintbury England with his