The intense and intimate story of espionage involving Soviet and American agents; one of the latter was the author’s father.
Dillon, a veteran journalist who served as the president of Reader’s Digest and has worked for Vogue, Harper’s, the New Yorker, and other publications, debuts with a tale full of intrigue, ignorance, treason, treachery, family, greed, and loyalty—to country, to lucre, to human rights. The author tells us about two families: her own and that of Dmitri Fedorovich Polyakov, a high-ranking Soviet intelligence official, who, for decades, shared critical information with his American counterparts, including Dillon’s father. With detail and technique that are almost novelistic, the author alternates the stories of the two families and describes her awareness, much later on, that her father was a CIA agent. Appearing in the text are some names familiar to followers of spy stories: Kim Philby, Philip Agee, and, most grievously in this particular story, Aldrich Ames. Using multiple interviews of principals and her comprehensive research, Dillon shows the internecine battles within the CIA, the fierce paranoia evident among many on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and the failure of intelligence officials to see the traitorous behavior that, in some cases, was flaring prominently. Ames, for example, was living a life that was far beyond his means, yet it took years for his superiors to catch on; likewise, the Soviets could not believe that a decorated hero like Polyakov would betray his country. Throughout the narrative, the author weaves the personal family stories of both of her principals—her own, of course, but she awards special attention to Polyakov’s son, Alexander, who also was working in intelligence but was unaware of his father’s alliances. We know the outcomes, so the dramatic irony is piercing.
Reads like a fine spy novel whose ending we know but whose story transports us nonetheless.