Man Without A Face
By Marcus Wolf
Secrecy, deception, role playing and above all loyalty to his cause, these qualities and many more are just a few required for a person named Markus Wolf to obtain the title "Man Without A Face." For almost twenty years Markus Wolf's life was so shrouded in secrecy that no one, not even western intelligence had any idea what he looked like, who he was and more so where he was. He directed agents who successfully infiltrated the West German intelligence agency, NATO and many more agencies. Marcus Wolf was so efficient in his operations it was said that "He could have formed a caucus in the West German parliament."
The book Man Without Face is set in East and West Germany, during their reunification around 1990. However, as with most books there is a story within a story, later the author Markus Wolf tells us about his childhood and his family, which is set some fifty-five to sixty years earlier. Throughout the book the geographical settings remain constant, either Germany, Moscow, or in that general area.
There was only one clear main character in the book and that was the author Markus Wolf. Markus Wolf was as you may have already gathered a spy. More specific he is the former head of the East German Foreign Intelligence Service. He is visually an older man light complexion with white hair, someone who you would think of as being the perfect grandfather, not one of the greatest spy's of all time. One moral that Wolf and his comrades possessed that was evident throughout the book was loyalty. Wolf would have rather died than expose the names and identities of his moles and agents to the enemy. He even gave up promises of freedom from persecution and imprisonment to stay loyal. Markus Wolf married three times throughout his career. Due to the nature of his job Markus had no children, he presently resides in Berlin.
The book had many, and I stress many characters that would pop-up and disappear never to be heard from again, this aided in making the book very confusing. Nevertheless there were characters such as Markus's first wife, brother and father that were important in his life and played roles in the story, but they were not main characters.
The story chronicled Wolf's successes and failures throughout his career; Including his assignments and duties. This caused many of his comrades to oppose his book, claiming that it was no ones business what went on behind closed doors, and his failures along with the East German Foreign Intelligence Services were also private. Wolf exposed his life from adolescence through all his schooling and training to the end of his career, at the close of the Cold War.
The book Man Without A Face by Markus Wolf to me was an average book. I cannot say (as much as I want to) that it was a bad, or a below average book. On the other hand it is not possible for me to say that this is an exceptional book either. Markus Wolf naturally a spy, not an award winning author should have tried to write the book more friendly to the western teenage spy enthusiast (I not saying that's what I am). Not geared so much to the college professor who majored history and is addicted to WW II and to top it off travels to Germany each summer to look at war memorials.
The author should not have included so much detail. This confused the plot of the story as well as me the reader. I will give you an example of what I'm referring to "I received a message form Walter Ulbriht, the East German leader, summoning me to the Central Committee building at the busy intersection of Lothringer Strasse (later Wilhelm-Pieck-Strasse) and Prenzlauer Alle in the center of East Berlin, not far from Alexanderplatz." I don't know about you but that's a lot just to say, I received a message from someone who held this position, and it summoned me to a building that was located here. Also the addition of so many characters that only played a microscopic role in the story, maybe only a paragraph at best really crowded and clouded the story plot. So in response to your question, no the book was not well written.
This book captured my attention partially, on one page I couldn't wait to read on. However, on the next page I couldn't wait until I reached my reading goal for the night. I guess I cannot answer the question with partially, so I'll have to say no the book didn't capture my attention. Did I enjoy reading the book? This is a fairly easy one to answer and as you can tell I'm not to pleased with selection. To no surprise I really didn't enjoy, or look forward to reading the book.
There were some parts of the book that took on the shape of an enjoyable mini story. What I mean by this is certain sections of the book were quite enjoyable, they were like small stories within a larger boring story. Some examples of these mini stories were when two CIA agents tried to bribe information from Markus, in return they would allow him to come to America and escape persecution from the West Germans. Parts like that grasped my attention and made me want to read on further. The rest of the book wasn't totally boring but it could use some jazzing up.
Some specific problems with the book were as I've mentioned, to much attention to detail. In some cases as in this book, it is not always good. In addition, too many characters and too many intelligence agencies were introduced too quick in the book. Just as you are getting the hang of pronouncing the German names, (example) Joe Blow from the CIA based in Baghdad shows up with Jane Doe from the FBI originally based in California, but now is currently based in Berlin. Hopefully you get my point, and I don't have to make up any more crazy examples. All the details and different characters made each sentence difficult and confusing.
The characters seem almost too real to be in a book. Markus Wolf is a very descriptive writer. Each character was in a sense formally introduced and a background was given on them. This would have been perfectly fine if there were not so many characters. As I've stated before the only real main character was that of the author. The rest just popped in for a visit and then disappeared.
The plot of the story was clear to me. The book followed Mr. Wolf throughout his career focusing on his highlights and failures. Not only did it focus on him, but it also paid close attention to Germany and its political hardships during this time, which in turn affected Wolf in his duties.
I believe that I would not recommend this book to a friend. My reason being that most likely they will experience the same hardships that I encountered. If I was to recommend this book to someone, it would have to be someone who is knowledgeable about Germany, WW II, and the different political branches of intelligence agencies. So in others words no one like me, or about 90% of the people I know.
So in conclusion, I believe that a person well versed in German history, or history period might enjoy this book. But for the majority of us who either do not posses the knowledge or have the patience, this book should not be your top choice off the rack. I believe that Markus Wolf can be a great author with a little guidance, and he has proven false the saying, the older you get the more you forget.