Romance behind the curtain

The Valley of Unknowing, by Philip Sington, Harvill Secker, RRP£14.99, 304 pages

Although Bruno Krug, the narrator of Sington’s third novel, is one of the most garlanded authors in the German Democratic Republic, it is 20 years since he published his finest work and he has been reduced to spying for the secret police.

A romance with a pretty music student from the west provides him with renewed inspiration but he finds himself competing for her affections with Wolfgang Richter, a younger, more charismatic writer. When Richter’s new, unpublished book – a masterpiece, but dangerously subversive – comes to his attention, Krug uses his Stasi contacts to cause his rival trouble.

The Valley of Unknowing is simply superb: affecting but never melodramatic, literary but never less than thrilling. Though Krug is self-pitying, he wins our sympathy at the tragic denouement, when we learn how he has also suffered under communism. His story, like the manuscript he grudgingly admires, is “truthfully, tenderly drawn”.

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