The Imperfect Spy

Man Without A Face: The Autobiography of Communism's Greatest Spymaster

by Markus Wolf
Times Books, 367 pp., $25.00

Die Troika (The Troika)

by Markus Wolf. (out of print)
Hildesheim, 256 pp.

In eigenem Auftrag (On My Own Orders)

by Markus Wolf. (out of print)
Munich: Schneekluth, 366 pp.

Geheimnisse der russischen Küche (Secrets of Russian Cuisine)

by Markus Wolf
Munich: Piper, 224 pp., DM 16,90

Markus Wolf: 'Ich bin kein Spion' (Markus Wolf: 'I Am Not a Spy')

by Irene Runge and Uwe Stelbrink. (out of print)
Berlin: Dietz, 126 pp.

Spymaster: The Real-Life Karla, His Moles, and the East German Secret Police

by Leslie Colitt
Addison-Wesley, 302 pp., $23.00

Wolfs West-Spione (Wolf's West-Spies)

by Peter Richter and Klaus Rösler
Berlin: Elefanten Press, 190 pp., DM 24,90

Markus Wolfe
Markus Wolfe; drawing by David Levine

Some six years ago, I heard “the greatest spymaster of our century”—to quote Times Books’ jacket hype—testify at the trial of one of his former subordinates in a Munich court. The judge started by asking “the witness Wolf” to give his name, address, age—and then his profession. “I work as an author,” said Wolf. A titter went round the courtroom, and even the judge could not restrain a smile.

In fact, since he retired in 1986, after thirty-three years as the head of East German foreign intelligence, Markus “Mischa” Wolf has been equally active and successful as an author. He has also given gainful employment to many other writers. His first book, in 1989, The Troika, was a sentimental memoir of his brother, the film director Konrad Wolf, and three other friends from their shared childhood in Stalinist Moscow. In 1990, there appeared Markus Wolf: “I Am Not a Spy”—a title that surely deserves the Kurt Waldheim Prize for Denial. This was a book-length interview with two sympathetic East German questioners. In 1991, Wolf published his second book, called On My Own Orders, an edited version of his notes and diary of the year of wonders 1989, topped and tailed with a few autobiographical reflections. Two years ago he produced a cookbook with his favorite Russian recipes, predictably named Secrets of Russian Cuisine.1

Meanwhile, beside a flood of newspaper interviews and television appearances, the now celebrated spy-author has already been the subject of several books by other writers, including one in English by the long-serving Berlin correspondent of the Financial Times, Leslie Colitt, entitled Spymaster: The Real-Life Karla, His Moles, and the East German Secret Police. Initially, Wolf’s memoirs were to be published by Bertelsmann, but the West German media giant then pulled out in a fit of morality. Stout-hearted Random House stepped in where Bertelsmann feared to tread, and the American publisher is now orchestrating the worldwide simultaneous publication of this authorized version of his life, with much publicity—hindered only by the fact that the United States has so far denied the author a visa on the grounds that he was implicated in the Stasi’s well-documented support for international terrorism.

We must therefore brace ourselves for another torrent of copywriter’s clichés: “legendary spy chief,” “in from the cold,” “real-life Karla.” Never mind that John le Carré firmly denies having had Wolf in mind, not just for his Russian Karla but also for a figure more plausibly associated with Wolf: the Jewish intellectual East German intelligence officer Fiedler, bullied by his coarse, anti-Semitic superior Mundtin The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. The fact that Fiedler was actually called “Wolf” in an earlier draft of that novel is pure coincidence, says le Carré: he took the name “Wolf” from his lawnmower. Yet when I spoke to the real Wolf in Berlin last year, he told me that he had read…

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