cover image THE COPENHAGEN PAPERS: An Intrigue


Michael Frayn, David Burke, . . Metropolitan, $20 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-6752-1

While Frayn's play Copenhagen won three Tony awards in 2000 (including best play), and the London playwright has Noises Off and the Booker Prize finalist Headlong to his credit, he doesn't enjoy the same name recognition here as does, say, a native like David Mamet. Interest in this Copenhagen spinoff project may thus depend on readers' willingness to delve into the arcana of physics and history, and into the working lives of the playwright and of Burke, a leading player in the London run of Copenhagen. The play itself concerns a mysterious 1941 meeting in the Nazi-occupied Danish capital between Werner Heisenberg, head of the covert Nazi nuclear program, and Niels Bohr (played by Burke), his former mentor. After the war, Heisenberg was interned by the British for six months at an estate called Farm Hall so the Allies might learn how far the German program had gotten—events also covered in the play. This book concerns a mysterious package Frayn received during the play's London run, from "Celia Rhys-Evans," saying that she had seen the play, and that during a stay at Farm Hall in the '60s she had found some papers written in German that must be relevant. The crumpled papers appeared to make a joke about Ping-Pong and uranium 235. In true British style, it turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by Burke, revealed by a third person just as Frayn was about to go to the papers. Still with us? Most American readers won't be, though as Frayn and Burke trade chapters and it becomes clear who knew what when, there are plenty of verbal and intellectual pleasures to be had. (May 2)