CNN reported today that an Enigma machine, the encoding device used by the Germans in World War II, was sold at Christie’s after a three-day bidding war for $208,137, to a “collector.” A collector of what, I wonder? Archaic keyboards? Not that I have anything against archaic keyboards, mind you. I still miss my typewriter, and think fondly of the insanely and even then antique huge adding machine my father had in his office. More likely, the collector collects memorabilia of World War II, which makes me wonder what else he has in his collection, if he can shell out that much for an unsightly and useless machine.
The reports of the sale, to this enigmatic collector, touch glancingly on the novel “Enigma” by Robert Harris, giving greater weight to the fact that the novel was made into a “Hollywood movie starring the award-winning actress Kate Winslet.” This is unfortunate, because the movie was rubbish, but the novel really is very good.
A high-strung, brilliant mathematician,Tom Jericho, returns to Bletchley Park (headquarters of the code-breakers) after cracking up while trying to crack the code. His fickle perhaps traitorous former flame Claire (played in the film by Saffron Burrows) has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Claire’s plain Jane roommate Hester (played in the film by Kate Winslet, in glasses and a frumpy cardigan because, right, that will make her plain), also employed at Bletchley, assists Tom in his quests to break both the Enigma code and the mystery of what happened to Claire and why the Nazis suddenly changed the code after Claire disappeared.
I read this novel several years ago and what I remember most is its depiction of a nearly-defeated Britain, in its fifth year of war, depleted of nearly all its resources, fighting to keep what little remained out of the hands of the callous Americans. A riveting read.