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The Spy Game    by Georgina Harding order for
Spy Game
by Georgina Harding
Order:  USA  Can
Bloomsbury, 2009 (2009)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

What if your East German émigré mother were a spy for a foreign country and one day simply disappeared from your life? That's what Anna and her brother Peter grow up believing happened to their family during the Cold War era, in Georgina Harding's atmospheric The Spy Game.

They never saw their mother, Caroline Wyatt, again after parting one chilly morning in January, 1961. Though told by their father (a linguist who worked as an intelligence officer in World War II) that she had died in an accident, Anna and Peter wonder about words overheard, and about news reports of 'Suspects Charged under the Official Secrets Act'. They share 'the knowledge of something big unspoken, of the falseness of smiles and the coding of words.' They imagine what might have happened and how it would have played out. Was she arrested and jailed or did she escape to live another life entirely?

It's young, clever Peter who is most obsessed with his mother's fate. He worries over the issue, is always angry, devours books about spies and spycraft, insists on the siblings communicating in code, and eventually runs away from school in search of his mother. He suspects Anna's piano teacher, a Germa Jew, and her Hungarian violinist lover of being spies. Tragedy follows.

But the passion to know what really happened stays with Anna longer. As an adult with a husband and a grown daughter, Anna researches what facts there are, and tries to find her mother's origins, based on elusive memories of what little her mother had told her. Harding takes her readers back and forth in time, from Anna the child to the middle-aged woman whose quest takes her to Berlin, to Poland and to Kaliningrad, Russia, leading inexorably to a surprising - and not at all obvious - conclusion.

In The Spy Game, Georgina Harding explores some people's need to find a place where 'the past will be a great distance away', as well as the damage done to children by adults' skirting the truth.

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