Orlov, a leading nuclear physicist and former Soviet dissident, looks back on his complex, extraordinary life. Recruited from the working class and seemingly destined to become a star of the Soviet scientific establishment, Orlov dared in 1956 to make a public criticism of the Party and immediately lost any chance of official fame and recognition within his home country. Politically sidelined, he continued scientific work in Armenia until returning to Moscow in the early 1970's, when he hooked up with fellow scientists like Sakharov and founded an illegal organization to monitor abuses of the 1975 Helsinki human-rights accords. Jailed in 1978 and exiled to Siberia in 1984, he was deported to the US in 1986 and is now a scientist at Cornell. While Orlov is best known for his work in human rights, the most absorbing pages here are those recounting his upbringing in the 1930's and imprisonment in 1978-84. He marshals a wealth of detail that makes it possible to visualize what it was like in Stalin's Russia and what it meant to be one of the ``lucky ones'': those who found an escape from the atrocious reality in books instead of booze, and whose parents died from TB or typhus rather than from the firing squad. His memoir of camp life—where KGB pressure to submit never let up—is a gripping reminder of another reality that existed only yesterday. Orlov never fully explains why he became a dissident, and some of the chapters dealing with the 1970's seem as rushed as hasty journal entries. Still, this is the honest record of an exceptional man whose story is worth knowing.
Read full book review >