Posted by: jbwuk | May 19, 2009

The Budapest Protocol

budapest protocolLast week I went to the launch of Adam Le Bor’s new book and first novel, The Budapest Protocol, published by a small brave independent publisher Reportage Press.
The evening did not start too well as I went to the wrong Daunts, in Fulham, the latest addition to their most successful venture. (It’s a pleasure to see that serious bookselling can work. I have an especially soft spot for the way they present their country shelves, mixing fiction with guide books, as I always read books by local authors whenever I go visit a new place).
My mistake was all the more irritating that Daunts Holland Park is on my way home and there was no need to make a huge detour through Fulham. They had run out of glasses when I arrived, a proof of how popular Adam is. I had a bit of an awkward moment when meeting a rather well-known author who used to be very friendly but who was obviously offended that we had not invited him to JBW 09 for his last book. But we cannot invite every body, especially when the books really don’t fit in our programme…

Having missed the speeches, I can’t say what was said on the night but I had a short conversation with Adam who agreed to answer a few questions for our readers. Here they are:Jacket Image for City of Oranges

– What made you switch from non-fiction to fiction with your new book The Budapest Protocol?

After six non-fiction books, ranging from an investigation into Swiss banks and Nazi gold, to a history of six families in Jaffa, I felt it was definitely time for a change. I think every writer likes to be challenged and fiction was something new and, at the start, very difficult, especially for a journalist. We are trained to explain and reveal everything at once, as clearly as possible. Fiction is the absolute opposite: you need hints, clues and allusions so the readers can make the connections for themselves. That took a while to learn!

– Why did you choose, like your colleagues Jonathan Freedland (alias Sam Bourne) or Matt Rees, the thriller as a genre?

Firstly because thrillers are my favourite type of book. Let me be more specific – intelligent, political thrillers, with an exotic or unusual location and complex characters. But it’s also no coincidence that Jonathan and Matt are thriller writers – it’s a kind of natural progression from journalism to novels that deal with the state of the world and political issues. We pick up a lot of material along the way that never makes it into articles.

– Can you tell us a little about the book on Madoff? What fascinated you into writing about him?

The book is called ‘The Believers: How America Fell for Bernie Madoff’, and will be published in September by Weidenfeld and Nicholson. It focuses very much on the sociology and psychology of the Madoff affair, rather than the financial mechanics. I was fascinated how Madoff made people believe in him, especially by waiting for investors to come to him and then turning some away, to maintain the air of ‘exclusivity’. The book also looks in depth at how Madoff operated within the New York Jewish community and exploited those connections so expertly.

Jacket Image for  From Milosevic’s biography to Complicity with Evil and your two books on Nazis, Hitler’s Secret Bankers and now the Budapest Protocol, you have depicted the power of man to do the utmost damage. Do you think Madoff’s greed and total disregard for those people who had trusted him with all their money, is a similar display of evil?

It’s interesting that you mention Milosevic here, for in some ways he reminds me of Madoff the most. Of course Madoff was stealing money rather than starting wars, but there is a similar callous indifference to human suffering. Of the many interviews I did for the Madoff book the one I remember the most is with an elderly Jewish man sitting in his flat on Park Avenue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, surrounded by boxes as the flat was packed up for sale as he lost all his money, which had been invested with Madoff. He told me that the last thirty years he and his wife, and Madoff and his wife, had gone out to dinner three times a year. To steal money from someone is one thing, but to look in their eyes and socialise with them for thirty years while you are doing it takes a very special kind of cold indifference to humanity.

We definitely want Adam to come and speak about Madoff at the next JBW but in the meanwhile I look forward to reading the Budapest Protocol.

Visit his website:


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