About the novel: Voices Under Berlin: The Tale of a Monterey Mary, is ostensibly set against the backdrop of Operation GOLD, the now famous Berlin Tunnel that ran almost 1500 feet under the border between the American and Russian sectors of Berlin to tap three subsurface telephone cables carrying Russian and East-German communications. The novel is now in its third edition.
The yarn is told from both ends of the tunnel. One end is the story of the Americans who worked the tunnel, and how they fought for a sense of purpose against boredom and the enemy both within and without. This side of the story is told with a pace and a black humor reminiscent of that used by Joseph Heller (Catch-22) and Richard Hooker (M*A*S*H*). The other end of the tunnel story is the Russians whose telephone calls the Americans are intercepting. Their side of the tale is told in the un-narrated transcripts of their calls. They are the voices under Berlin.
The novel is part of the current wave of “insider” spy fiction that has begun to emerge in the twenty-first century. The author served at Field Station Berlin in the mid-1970s, after a tour at Herzo Base. He is a three-time graduate of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, the alumni of which are called “Monterey Marys.”
This link will take you to my Blogcritics review of Voices Under Berlin.
There are a lot of illustrations in Voices Under Berlin. That’s very unusual for an “adult” novel. Why did you put in all the illustrations?
The answer is really part of a childhood memory of my mother reading me Alice in Wonderland. The first thing read in Alice’s voice is: “What’s the use of books without pictures or conversation?” I readily agreed with Alice, and took her words to heart.
There are both pictures and conversation in Voices Under Berlin. The pictures in Voices Under Berlin may not be as good as the ones I grew up with by Sir John Tenniel in Alice in Wonderland, or the ones by Frank Godwin in Treasure Island, but they do help to illustrate the lives of the people who populate what is a very ear-centric novel. Half of every chapter is nothing but conversation. Each chapter contains an unnarrated transcript of a telephone conversation between two Russians. The Russians are the voices under Berlin.
The lack of visual cues in the narrative is deliberate. Voices under Berlin is the story of someone who is very good at listening to conversations to which he is not a party, and making sense of them. The “aural” structure of the book is intended to push readers out of their “visual” comfort zone to give them a better feeling for what it is like to be ear-centric, because if you are going to understand what makes Kevin tick, you need to look at the world through his ears, not through his eyes.