“He has torn down the line between entertainment and high literature”

Photo: imago

Yassin Musharbash, 44, studied political science and Arabic studies in Gottingen and Ramallah. He is a journalist at the Time, before that he also worked for the taz. His thriller "Radikal" was published in 2011.

site: Mr. Musharbash, you worked for John le Carre for some time. How did that come about?

Yassin Musharbash: John le Carre employed people for many of his books. These were people who were very knowledgeable about certain topics and with whom he got along well personally. I wasn’t the only one. I was recommended to him in 2007 to work on his book Marionettes, which was set in Germany, and he needed someone who knew about Islamist terrorism and security agencies in Germany.

Why you?

I’m mainly a journalist and deal with exactly these topics. That’s how I got involved. We then met in person once to get to know each other and hit it off right away.

What of yours went into this book?

Until "Marionettes" was finished at the end of 2009, I did various things. In the beginning, I commented on individual chapters, from my expert point of view, so to speak. He had follow-up questions every now and then. They were often about how these people think, how they talk. For one of his protagonists, for example, I wrote a fictitious biography on three pages. I wanted him to get a feel for this person, because his life story was not something he was very familiar with. It was about an Islamist activist. A lot of things slipped into the book through his filters. At one point, we cooked up a plot together about how to siphon off money for terrorists from an aid shipment to East Africa without anyone noticing. That was great fun. He was extremely precise in his work, and it was always very important to him that things were right. Not every case he described had to be realistic, but believable.

But isn’t that strange, too, to have other people co-write his book, so to speak?

I think it’s a show of cleverness. In the end, it’s his work, and no one would ever question that. But when you have the opportunity to have people help you out on very specific questions, of course that’s very helpful. John le Carre was always a good researcher and, for example, always visited the places where his books were set beforehand. I have sometimes received e-mails in which he wrote to me that he was currently walking around the Czech border because some scenes in his book were set there.

Where do you see connections between journalism and literature in le Carre’s work?

John le Carre always had a little weakness for journalists. They often ask themselves the same questions as agents. Except that they act in public and in the public interest, and agents act in secret.

What gap does his death leave in the literary landscape?

His last book, "Federball," is very underrated, in my opinion, and is considered one of his small, light novels. On the one hand it is, but on the other hand it isn’t, because it also deals with the Brexit decision. And John le Carre had a strong opinion about it. He was so angry the last few years about it. That all feeds into the book. It was a kind of self-defense book against Brexit. That anger, that holy rage that he’s had over the last few years about Trump and about Brexit – that to me is a badge of how important a politically engaged literary figure can be to a society. That leaves a gap, of course. This anger he had, even as someone who had worked for this country in the past, was a very clear reckoning. John le Carre is one of the few thriller writers who managed to tear down that line between entertainment and high literature. In England, one of the great literary figures of the postwar period has just died, not one of the great thriller writers.

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