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Authors: Len Deighton

MAMista

BOOK: MAMista
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Len Deighton
MAMista

Contents

1

The smell of the rain forest came on the offshore…

2

The man's name was buried in a Spanish Guiana file…

3

Ralph Lucas was forty-five years old and every year of…

4

Ralph Lucas did not much like flying and he detested…

5

From the top floor of the American embassy building on…

6

Despite his US passport, Angel Paz had not been permitted…

7

The glass doors of Tepilo's police headquarters were tinted bronze.

8

‘Speedy Gonzales' – Thorburn's twin-engined Beech – might have been…

9

‘It's not unlike Florida.' When Jack Charrington closed his desk,…

10

The jeep's engine was not running smoothly, and that worried…

11

A photograph of Rosario, artfully soft-focused and with some red…

12

By the time that Rosario was fully awake, the MAMista…

13

It was called ‘la residencia': a grand country mansion in…

14

Ralph Lucas, sitting at his bench looking out of the…

15

The Roosevelt Room was the most elegant of all the…

16

It was called ‘the winter camp' even now, when no…

17

In the first light of morning no landscape beckons the…

18

Where else in all the world, thought John Curl, could…

19

There is always mist on a jungle dawn. It sits…

20

Angel Paz's father was five feet six inches tall. He…

21

The river was very wide. The far bank was shiny…

22

It had been a fiercely hot summer. The sprinklers could…

23

‘Do you believe in life after death?' Singer asked. They'd…

24

It was not an ambush. The two parties had blundered…

25

No one was immune to the torments of the jungle.

26

There was a time when the President of the United…

Prompted by seeing the renderings of my two murals for Cunard's new ship,
Queen Elizabeth
, Len Deighton suggested that I illustrate some of the covers of this next quartet of re-issues. I am delighted to be given the opportunity to draw once again, as it has been well over thirty years since my days as a regular illustrator for the
Sunday Times
.

MAMista
is in many ways a remarkable work and it contains some complex and conflicted characters, who are all profoundly affected by the events in the story. I chose the idealistic young Marxist, Angel Paz, as an exemplar of this. By depicting this young man's visage prematurely aged and hollowed out by experience, giving him that thousand-yard stare seen so often in photos by the likes of Robert Capa, James Nachtwey or Tim Page, I could best capture the heart of the book. It also allowed me to put him in the battered uniform of a MAMista rebel. Angel stands in front of the South American jungle, an actual and metaphorical character in the book representing entropy and decay, and here it pushes against the flimsy walls of the revolutionaries' camp.

A trip to an army surplus store on Hollywood Boulevard provided me with the camouflage cap and an AK40 rifle pin for the back cover. I usually photograph the objects that decorate the back covers on our kitchen table, as the window's translucent white curtains provide a very nice soft
light, contrasting California's hard shadows so much favoured by artist David Hockney.

For the book's spine I purchased a pair of custom-made dog tags stamped with the name of another of the book's characters, Ramon, a service number and ‘C' for his religion. (Given Ramon is revolutionary leader of the MAMista, it might also stand for ‘comrade'.) Observant readers will notice that each of the spines in this latest quartet of reissues features a metallic object; a subtle visual link that draws together four books written and set in very different times and places.

I have taken the photograph for this book's back cover with my Canon 5D camera, and my illustration was drawn with a HB Staedtler pencil.

Arnold Schwartzman OBE RDI
Hollywood 2011

The jungle is hot, dark and humid, and for people like me it is claustrophobic too. But the worst torment of squelching through dense vegetation for hour after hour is the pervasive and incomparable smell. Never mind the pretty jungle flowers, vivid in colour and menacing in size, and the hanging creepers that try to throttle you, or the wet air that makes breathing laboured, it is the powerful stink of rotting plants that even the most hardened veteran suffers and never forgets.

MAMista
started far away from any jungle. It began with a meeting at a stall in an antique market in Islington, London. A chance remark about a small overpriced bronze ornament led to a conversation in a coffee shop nearby and a friendship. This stranger was a small man, about forty years old at that time, with a short haircut, outdoor complexion and steel-rim spectacles. His voice was low and I could not place his accent but he told me that he had been born in a seaside village in Tasmania and I had no reason to disbelieve him. He was wearing a well-worn Harris Tweed jacket with corduroy trousers. His open-necked khaki shirt was of the military sort with button-down pockets. I later discovered that he had been a doctor with the Australian Regiment in Vietnam. He had been with the first of the advisory teams in 1962 and stayed with the Regiment until he was ordered home; ‘Weary not wounded' he explained
when he finally talked about that time. ‘They fought through rain forest, grasslands and rubber,' he said. ‘They were all good boys.' An army doctor soon learns to be an untrained and unqualified surgeon, dentist and psychiatrist, he told me. At the time I met him he had given up both the army and medicine to become an auctioneer in a small country town in Cornwall. It was his experience with antiques that led to his remark about the bronze ornament I was admiring in the market. After a few more meetings in London I lost touch with him, and a year or so afterwards one of the market traders told me he had gone back to Australia. But my recollections of him remained vivid and the doctor in
MAMista
is not unlike him in physique and in that admirable Australian fortitude.

Other physicians influenced my story. When I was a student, living in south London, the tiny apartment block in which I lived was otherwise entirely occupied by doctors from nearby Guy's Hospital. I made friends with several of them and the whole block was on some sort of priority list with the GPO telephone service. I treasured this service for at this time telephones were a government monopoly and a reliable telephone was a rare facility in England. In addition to the friendships I made with my medically trained neighbours, my local doctor was a man who had spent his military service as an army doctor and, most unusually for a conscript, had risen to the rank of Lt-Col. He became a close friend as well as a reliable source of medical advice and treatment. Initially I toyed with the idea of making the central figure of
MAMista
a priest or a missionary but I soon modified the character into a combination of my Australian veteran and my doctor friend. There were other doctors to whom I remain indebted. My old friend Dr Maurice Lessof read the typescript and explained medical and surgical realities. Although the result was a fictional character that none of these doctors would have recognized, he was a hero for what I conceived as a love story.

With a doctor as the main character the medical aspect was important. I have no medical training but I became acquainted with physical injury at an early age. As a teenager I had served as a wartime messenger at a First Aid Post in Marylebone Road in Central London. Along with all the other inhabitants of London I lost friends and neighbours in the bombing that came every night from September 1940 until May. And flying bombs and rockets continued to fall during the following years. I had seen what high explosives did to the human body. During my service in the RAF I had been a medical photographer working with surgical teams in the operating theatres. These ideas and experiences helped to provide the background to the story of
MAMista
.

I am not a political person. I have never been able to accept the stated ideas of any political organization, which is why I have never joined one. But I am not bored by politics: like economics, it paints a revealing picture of people and their fears and aspirations both real and unreal. Starting with my days as an art student I met many communists: Marxists, Trotskyites and other sub divisions of the Left. Many of them had genuine wishes to do good and some were self-denying in their lifestyle to a point of self-destruction. Later when for historical research my family and I lived in Berlin and Munich I met many Nazis, some of whom had held senior military or Party ranks. I have found that most people with strong political beliefs are guided by emotion rather than logic and are apt to be tolerant of ugly repressive measures taken in the name of the poor or of patriotism. My experience over many years has left me with the firm belief that anyone given regulatory power is very likely to abuse it. Few politicians are brave enough to deregulate but the fewer the regulations the better and happier and more prosperous does any society become.

So I had no great difficulty in creating
MAMista
the South American political movement that gave its name to
this book. And when I had any doubts about political theories a cup of coffee with one of my political friends quickly ironed them out. My first decision had been the jungle and I was never tempted to change that. Most stories benefit from an enclosed setting – submarine, hospital, boardroom – and the jungle provided a claustrophobic and menacing one. It was also mysterious. The jungle dominates the story and I intended that it should be so.

The freedom that comes with writing books is a responsibility and test. The best stories, like the best movies, are ones with plots that are impossible to move to a different setting. The story should be unique to the environment so that the setting grips the characters. All of these strictures were in my mind during the planning stage of
MAMista
. It was to be a story of incompatible people surmounting their differences and mutual dislike in order to survive. Describing the changing attitude of my characters remained the basic idea; a hostile environment would be the driving force of that change. There was no question of making it a first-person narrative; the scenes in Los Angeles and in the White House were important to the structure. And getting the White House right was not easy! It was not going to be a simple task and you must decide to what extent I succeeded.

Len Deighton, 2011

 

‘Hegel says somewhere that all great events and personalities in world history reappear in one fashion or another. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.'

Karl Marx,
The 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon

BOOK: MAMista
7.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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