OPERATION PARTERRE by George Blagowidow


Email this review


Young graduate-student Anton Nizov, child of White Russian ÉmigrÉs in 1939 Vienna, is recruited by an anti-Soviet ""Freedom for Russia"" group--and agrees to undertake an odd, risky assignment (""Operation Parterre""): he'll sneak into Poland, pose as a Pole, and gather information on Soviet tanks for Germany. (Though Hitler and Stalin are currently quasi-allies, war is inevitable--the Germany victory is the only hope for a White Russian rÉgime,) Soon, however, Anton, in the little town of Pruzhany, finds himself in problematic relationships. He develops a pure, total love for asthmatic Nadya--a Russian-ÉmigrÉ aristocrat--but can't tell her Iris real identity. He also is drawn to sensuous Red Army librarian Masha, whose adoration he exploits in his quest for tank specifications. He joins a Polish, anti-Soviet patriot group--yet he's sympathetic to the Soviet soldiers in town whom he chats with, hungry for military data. And eventually, while Soviet counter-spy Vashin is closing in on Operation Parterre, Anton does reveal his true self to lever Nadya--who vows to help him get hold of the new Soviet-tank plans. (The lovers will also adopt little war-orphan Magda.) But Vashin is closing in, even appearing incognito as a fellow-tenant at the house where Anton and Nadya are staying: a bit of Crime and Punishment-style cat-and-mouse ensues (since Nadya immediately recognizes the NKVD agent); Anton is taken prisoner after grabbing the tank plans; Nadya and Magda escape with the plans. And Anton then escapes too, rejoining his wife and child for an ordeal-finale--but, just as they're about to achieve their goal, Anton and Nadya decide to destroy the tank papers, still hating the Soviet system, yet: ""I knew what I had felt in the depths of my soul all along. I would not be able to carry out this assignment to cross the border with these plans and be a traitor to my country."" Again, as in Last Train to Berlin (1977), Blagowidow textures routine WW II action with seine intriguing political angles (the White Russian dilemma especially). And the portrait of Polish-village life circa 1939-40 (under Soviet semi-occupation) is convincing. Anton, however, is a blandly noble narrator-hero; the tank material will appeal only to armament buffs; and the spy/chase suspense is sporadic--too often bogging down in stilted dialogue and Anton's somewhat soupy affairs of the heart.

Pub Date: Dec. 6th, 1982
Publisher: Hippocrene