STEPPING DOWN FROM THE STAR: A Soviet Defector's Story by Alexandra Costa

STEPPING DOWN FROM THE STAR: A Soviet Defector's Story

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Part-spy, part-suspense and part-human interest, this is an unusual story and all true: a Soviet woman attached to the Embassy in Washington defects in 1978 and then transforms herself into an MBA-clad single working American mother. Costa, formerly Yelena Mitrokhina, gives us sharp (although perhaps slanted) glimpses into life in Leningrad and Moscow, half. Soviet, half-American life at the Embassy, and life among her FBI and CIA defenders. The biggest problem here, long-windedness and credibility questions aside, is that Costa is not particularly likable. Oddly, she offers in her narrative a confirmation of this hunch; apparently the CIA psychological report calls her ""a self-absorbed narcissist, almost a sociopath."" Defection aside, this is also a portrait of marriage. Both Costa and her husband Lev, 12 years older and her professional senior, had previous marriages. But Lev's prying ex-wife and his attachment to his 12-year-old daughter were enough for Costa to want to leave Moscow. Once in America, she loves it immediately--especially store-bought baby food and her Oldsmobile. Meanwhile her marriage is going sour. Lev drinks too much and mourns the return of his daughter to Moscow after a half-year in Washington. Costa has her second child. The FBI knows much about them and targets Costa as a possible defector who needs some encouragement. Here's the most interesting part of the book: FBI planning and shenanigans. Too bad Costa seems to skip over a good bit of the FBI goings on, perhaps for narrative reasons, probably for security. The actual defection scenes and the farewells with Lev, however, are gripping and emotional. From there she changes her name, lives on CIA money for several years and goes to business school (also on CIA money). She lives with a fictitious past constructed for her until she comes out of the closet in 1983. Costa's book, interestingly, tells us less about Soviet life than about American life from a unique perspective, the American dream as it pertains to her--and never for a minute can she afford to doubt it. A gripping story; too bad we don't completely trust the narrator.

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 1986
Publisher: Putnam