A perfectly told tale of defeat and glory—and a paean to gallantry in the face of the absurd—inspired by a real-life secret mission during World War II.

Orphaned in the first months of World War One, when his father is killed in action, Willie Maryington dreams only of joining the same cavalry regiment and going to the front. The Armistice dashes seventeen-year-old Willie’s plans, but not his dreams of glory, and he makes the regiment the center of his adult existence. Yet, as the years go by, Willie falls increasingly out of step, not only with civilian life, but with the modern military, where horse charges are a thing of the past, and where a gulf yawns between those who saw action and those who did not. When hostilities break out again between Germany and England, Willie has become a relic. No one could guess that he will be chosen for a mission whose outcome might well decide the course of the Second World War.

Inspired by a real-life triumph of British counterintelligence (codenamed “Operation Mincemeat”), and based on classified sources, Operation Heartbreak was suppressed by the British government until 1950. A work of “jewel-like brevity and intensity” (New York Herald Tribune), it is a study in nostalgia and bewildered idealism to place beside the novels of Joseph Roth and Ford Madox Ford.

About the author(s)

Alfred Duff Cooper (1890–1954) was a statesman, diplomat, and historian. He was a decorated officer during the First World War and entered Parliament in 1923. He remained a politician until 1938, when he resigned in protest at Britain's appeasement policy toward Nazi Germany. Called back to office by Winston Churchill in 1940, his wartime career culminated in his appointment as Ambassador to France. Shortly before his death he was made 1st Viscount Norwich. He was married to Lady Diana Cooper, the famed society debutant, actress, and writer. Operation Heartbreak is his only novel.

Michael Hofmann is a German-born, British-educated poet and translator. He is the author of two books of essays and five books of poems, most recently One Lark, One Horse. Among his translations are plays by Bertolt Brecht and Patrick Süskind; the selected poems of Durs Grünbein and Gottfried Benn; and novels and stories by, among others, Franz Kafka; Peter Stamm; his father, Gert Hofmann; and fourteen books by Joseph Roth. He teaches in the English Department at the University of Florida.


“It is a story of why men go to war, it is also a heart-wrenching love story; a wonderful novel by a masterly writer that should be on everyone's bookshelf—and not borrowed but bought.”

Nina Bawden

“A supremely moving and well-wrought tale . . . A perceptive and fondly comic study of an orphaned aristocrat named Willie Maryngton . . . like Bertie Wooster cast in a tragic role . . . And it is this hopeless, supererogatory soul who, in a freakish turn of events, becomes central to the secretive military mission known here as Operation Heartbreak . . . As unexpected as it is affecting.”

Sam Sacks

"[A] little masterpiece."

Compton Mackenzie

“Willie’s rigid adherence to the old order marks him as either heroic or foolish in the manner of Stevens, the head butler in Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day . . . The novel’s understated tone charms. Cooper’s portrait of the interwar years is an appealing literary curiosity.”