The Little Drummer Girl

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The Little Drummer Girl
First UK edition
AuthorJohn le Carré
Cover artistJeffeson Godwin[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreSpy fiction
PublisherHodder & Stoughton (UK)
Publication date
1 March 1983
Media typePrint (hardback and paperback)
Pages430 (hardback edition)
ISBN0-340-32847-9 (UK hardback edition)
LC ClassPR6062.E33 L43 1984
Preceded bySmiley's People 
Followed byA Perfect Spy 

The Little Drummer Girl is a spy novel by British writer John le Carré, published in 1983. The story follows the manipulations of Martin Kurtz, an Israeli spymaster who intends to kill Khalil – a Palestinian terrorist who is bombing Jewish-related targets in Europe, particularly Germany – and Charlie, an English actress and double agent working on behalf of the Israelis.

Plot summary[edit]

Martin Kurtz, an Israeli spy working in a clandestine agency to allow plausible deniability for his superiors, recruits Charmian “Charlie” Ross, a 26-year-old radical left-wing English actress from a privileged background, as part of an elaborate scheme to discover the whereabouts of Khalil, a Palestinian terrorist. Joseph is Charlie's case officer. Khalil's younger brother Salim is abducted, interrogated, and killed by Kurtz's unit. Joseph impersonates Salim and travels through Europe with Charlie to make Khalil believe that Charlie and Salim are lovers. When Khalil discovers the affair and contacts Charlie, the Israelis are able to track him down.

Charlie is taken to Palestinian refugee camps to be trained as a bomber. She becomes more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and her divided loyalties bring her close to collapse. Charlie is sent on a mission 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, Joseph kills Khalil. Charlie subsequently has a mental breakdown caused by the strain of her mission and her own internal contradictions.



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 woman in her 20s to an American in her 30s. The film was released on DVD in 2006.


A BBC/AMC serial adaptation was directed by Park Chan-wook, starring Florence Pugh, Alexander Skarsgård, and Michael Shannon.[2] It also stars Clare Holman, Kate Sumpter, Charles Dance, Simona Brown, Michael Moshonov, Amir Khoury, and Max Irons; the series debuted in November 2018.[3]


Some reviewers described The Little Drummer Girl as transcending the spy novel genre.[4] "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."[5]

John Grisham, when queried by Bill Moyers, picked The Little Drummer Girl as one of his favourite novels, saying,

I love to read John le Carré, the British guy who's really probably my favourite writer. The Little Drummer Girl is a book I read about every four or five years. It's just so clever and brilliantly plotted. 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.[6]


Several real-life people have been mentioned as inspirations for the character of Charlie:


  1. ^ de Haas, Boy (23 December 2010). "Modern first editions: Le Carré 1983". Flickr.
  2. ^ "Production commences on The Little Drummer Girl". BBC Media Centre. 8 February 2018.
  3. ^ Mancuso, Vinnie (30 July 2018). "First 'The Little Drummer Girl' Images Show Off Alexander Skarsgard and a Mustachioed Michael Shannon". Collider.
  4. ^ Broyard, Anatole (25 February 1983). "Books of the Times". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Buckley, William F. Jr (13 March 1983). "Terror and a Woman". The New York Times.
  6. ^ Moyers, Bill. "Bill Moyers talks with John Grisham". PBS. Retrieved 6 November 2014.
  7. ^ Moore, Matthew (13 October 2018). "John Le Carré inspired by his 'radical' half-sister". The Times.
  8. ^ Bird, Kai (2014). The Good Spy: The Life and Times of Robert Ames. New York City: Crown Publishers. p. 276. ISBN 978-0-30788-975-1.

External links[edit]