Robert Littell was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1935. The grandson of Jewish-Lithuanian immigrants, he studied at Alfred University in western New York State. After graduating in 1956 he spent four years in the U.S. Navy, serving on a destroyer as communications and anti-submarine warfare officer and ship’s navigator. He later became a journalist and worked for many years as an editor at »Newsweek«, specializing in Soviet and East European affairs. In 1970 Littell abandoned journalism, moved to France and began to process his Cold War experiences in literary form. He has been a novelist ever since.
The author’s breakthrough came with his first published novel, »The Defection of A. J. Lewinter« (1973), an entertaining spy thriller which plays with Cold War clichés, ironically inverting them. The novel won the Golden Dagger Prize, the U.K.’s most prestigious award for crime fiction. Since then his works have often been compared to those of the greatest thriller writers, such as John LeCarré and Len Deighton. Following the success of his début novel, Littell more or less alternated between writing Cold War espionage thrillers and exploring other genres, as with »Mother Russia« (1978), a love story set in Moscow, and »The Visiting Professor« (1993) about a Russian expert on chaos theory who flees the Soviet chaos only to find an uncomfortable exile in American chaos. Littell’s abiding inte rest has been the Cold War, and he achieved his greatest success with the thousand-page novel »The Company« (2002), a meticulously researched and detailed espionage saga that traces the history of the CIA from its creation in the late 1940s until the implosion of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. His latest novel, »The Stalin Epigram« (2009) leaves the spy thriller behind, telling the real life story of Osip Mandelstam, a poet who, in 1934, dared to insult the »Kremlin Mountaineer«, Josef Stalin, in a courageous sixteen-line epigram that called him, among other things, a »murderer and peasant-slayer«. »The Washington Post« commented: »This is a brilliant work, always readable, sometimes funny and often heartbreaking. There are a lot of books about Stalin’s reign of terror, but there can’t be many which bring the truths so insistently and painfully to light«.
Robert Littell has been awarded many prizes, most recently the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the German Prize for Crime Fiction. He lives in the Dordogne area in the south-west of France.
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