The Little Drummer Girl

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This article is about the novel. For the film based on the novel, see The Little Drummer Girl (film).
The Little Drummer Girl
JohnLeCarre TheLittleDrummerGirl.jpg
First UK edition
Author John le Carré
Cover artist Jeffeson Godwin[1]
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Spy novel
Publisher Hodder & Stoughton (UK) & Alfred A. Knopf (USA)
Publication date
1 March 1983
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 430 pp (hardback edition)
ISBN 0-340-32847-9 (UK hardback edition) & ISBN 0-394-53015-2 (US hardback edition)
OCLC 9424294
Preceded by Smiley's People
Followed by A Perfect Spy

The Little Drummer Girl is a spy novel by John le Carré, published in 1983. The story follows the manipulations of Martin Kurtz, an Israeli spymaster who is trying to kill a Palestinian terrorist named Khalil, who is bombing Jewish-related targets in Europe, particularly Germany, and the English actress Charlie, who becomes a double agent working on behalf of the Israelis. The novel does not feature le Carré's most famous character George Smiley.

Despite the plot, some reviewers thought it transcends the spy novel genre.[2] "The Little Drummer Girl is about spies", said William F. Buckley, writing in The New York Times, "as Madame Bovary is about adultery or Crime and Punishment about crime."[3]

Plot summary[edit]

Martin Kurtz, an Israeli spy working in a clandestine agency to allow plausible deniability for his superiors, recruits Charlie, a radical left-wing English actress, as part of an elaborate scheme to discover the whereabouts of Khalil, a Palestinian terrorist. Charlie's case officer and furtive lover is Joseph.

Khalil's younger brother Salim is abducted, interrogated, and killed by Kurtz's unit. Joseph impersonates Salim and travels through Europe with Charlie in order to make Khalil believe that Charlie and Salim are lovers, the goal being that, when Khalil discovers the affair and contacts Charlie, the Israelis will be able to track him down.

Khalil does contact Charlie through intermediaries, and she travels to Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon to be trained as a bomber. She becomes more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and her divided loyalties bring her close to collapse.

Finally, Charlie is sent on a mission to pretend to place a bomb at a lecture given by an Israeli moderate whose peace proposals are not to Khalil's liking. She carries out the mission under the Israelis' supervision. As a result, Khalil is killed, and Charlie's mission comes to an end. She subsequently has a mental breakdown caused by the strain of her mission and her own internal contradictions. Whereupon Joseph comes to her aid: "locked together, they set off awkwardly along the pavement, though the town was strange to them".

Film adaptation[edit]

The Little Drummer Girl was made into a feature film by George Roy Hill in 1984. It starred Diane Keaton as Charlie, Yorgo Voyagis as Joseph, and Klaus Kinski as Kurtz. The film changes Charlie from an English twentysomething to a thirty-ish American. The film was released on DVD in 2006.


John Grisham, when queried by Bill Moyers, picked The Little Drummer Girl as one of his favorite novels, saying, "I love to read John le Carré, the British guy who's really probably my favorite writer. The Little Drummer Girl is a book I read about every four or five years. It's just so clever and brilliantly plotted. [sic] It's the kinda' book–and his writing is off the charts, the way he expresses himself and the way he describes people and dialogue–and every time I read that book, it inspires me to be better." [4]


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