Espionage is not a math problem.
When we met, your father told me about the night you were born, how he spent it in a hospital but not with you and your mother, in a hospital in a city far away from the one where you arrived, on time. He said, with that sly charm, “Though where I was wasn’t quite a hospital, in truth. It wasn’t quite a city, either.” He described looking out the window and seeing fires in the streets. He described thinking about your name while watching his friend die, the blood on his hands. His friend, his colleague.
He told me they’d chosen “Anna” finally, not because of the literary echoes but because your mother had liked its lyricism, the precision of those twin A’s on either end. Precision, or was it simplicity? He said, “And also because the letter A is a beginning, and I wanted to remember that night as being about the start of something rather than about an end.” I didn’t say that the letter A always made me think of endings, as in answers, as in questions and answers. The answers are what matter.
I met your father within the first hour of my first day at the Agency. He told me that story, then took me to see the stars on the wall, each star linked to a loss of life. He pointed to one and said, “That was my friend the night she was born, in that hospital in that city with those fires.” He told me he planned to take you to see the star when you were old enough.
I didn’t understand at the time what he was talking about. I went into this for the thrill, the mission, the risk. Some boys want to be quarterback. I wanted something different. Your father was trying to tell me that the essence of the experience would be emotional. “Espionage isn’t a math problem,” he said. Espionage is intimacy, a trip to the truth. I was a skilled interrogator, but the hardest interrogation is the one we perform on ourselves, of course. Your father always said, “Ask the hard questions.” And, “Write down the answers, else you’ll forget.”
These are my answers. This is what happened, and why, what I know and believe. This story doesn’t involve fires, though it does involve a goddess or two. It does involve a dying friend. It involves a young officer who followed orders and committed crimes and fell in love and saved a life.
I believe in forgiveness.
I believe except the Lord keep the city, the watchman will wake, but in vain.
I believe in you.
This is the story of your father, Anna. You are old enough now.
An avalanche can be triggered by weather or surface conditions. It can be triggered by a single skier’s slip. Even an expert can be caught in an avalanche. And the most common cause of death in this case is asphyxiation. It’s a kind of drowning, actually, drowning in snow. When her father died in an avalanche, Anna became obsessed with mountain weather, with snow. She learned that in the winter of 1951, also called the Winter of Terror, there were 649 avalanches in the Alps alone, that more than ninety lost their lives in the canton of Valais, in Switzerland, which is exactly where her father had a home and where he hiked to find fresh tracks the day he died, sixty some winters later. After she buried him near the Matterhorn, Anna had her own Winter of Terror. She was newly married and living, as one friend put it, “in the mourning shell, an Athenian isolation tank of loss.” Shell, tank—that sounded about right. And yet just as she was most focused on herself and on her own pain, someone presented her with a problem even more complex than loss. The effect of this was what one might call empathy, or perspective. One might also call it deus ex machina. Anna met this guy with his problem at Cap d’Antibes, in the South of France, only seven months after placing edelweiss on her father’s Swiss grave. He would pull her out of the tank, soaking and alive.
Where did it come from, that sense Anna had of herself as being different from her peers. She wasn’t sure. It had always been there. It wasn’t arrogance. It might have been fear. She had always felt a longing for risk in her life, having been born into a part of the world that could feel absolutely riskless, a place that appeared to be defined by traditions, order, and rule. Though those traditions and rules served a purpose, like crenellated castle walls. They were there in anticipation of enemy fire. Traditions tell us what to do but order tells us what not to do. The what-not-to’s: These were Anna’s problem. That perfect grace of the child she once was would be eclipsed by the perfect rebellion of an adolescent who dazzled teachers in her days but stayed out too late nights, trying on different levels of risk. And this unexpected element in her character would lead to choices that did set her apart. That instinct to rebel is what led her to the most important choices she would make—whom to love, whom to trust. As she grew older and started to encounter experiences she could not possibly control, Anna learned to keep her less practical instincts caged, damp the rebel. But the rebel will always out. During high school she would wander into her father’s office on nights he was home and ask questions like, “What do you do with all your rage.” “Oh, you embrace it,” he would say, smiling as if this answer were obvious. He would lean back in his chair like he owned the world, which at one point she believed he did. He called her moods “dark and stormies,” and told her to welcome them. He didn’t believe in therapy. He believed all the help we ever need is within us. This was his ethos. It was what drew him to Asia—that cultural discipline, precision. And that instinct to always take the long view.