Wednesday, July 5, 2017

My Amazon Review of Joseph Kanon's "Defectors: A Novel"

Moscow Days, Moscow Lies

I last ran into Joseph Kanon in the Berlin of the late 1940s (“Leaving Berlin”). This time his novel is set in the drab Moscow of 1961 among the community of American and British defectors who have their KGB minders. There are cameos for the British spies, Donald MacLean and Guy Burgess. The notorious Kim Philby will defect two years later.

The novel revolves around the editor Simon Weeks who is seeking to publish the  autobiography of his defector brother, Frank, under the title of “My Secret Life” which is reminiscent of Philby’s autobiography written seven years later. Both brothers served as OSS officers during World War II. However Frank was recruited by the KGB during his time fighting in Spain and he later becomes the CIA’s most prominent defector in 1949. Frank lives in Moscow with his alcoholic wife, but nevertheless, he remains a KGB officer.

The KGB has authorized Frank to publish his autobiography and what better reason for them to bring his brother Simon to finish up the book. Of course Simon doesn’t enter Moscow blind and he is in constant contact with the CIA station chief in Moscow. Thus both brothers are lying to each other and themselves.

The book ends with quite the chase scene across the Russian border into Finland. Kanon tell a good story and he certainly knows how to write. Here is just one example: ”Leningrad at first glance, was a faded beauty that had stopped wearing makeup-all the buildings, the pastel facades, needed paint.”

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