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A closely seen novel about Russia by the Moscow Bureau Chief for Time, about a petty official with a killer secret in his past, with a fateful plot that moves like a chilling draft around your ankles. Someone in Moscow is following the bachelor Alexander Kuznetsov, a tired senior executive at the Red Banner Generator Factory. His past and present are narrated herein in parallel sequences, and during WW II, while fighting at the Leningrad front, Kuznetsov is taken prisoner by the Germans. Later, as the Russian army approaches the POW camp, the prisoners learn that the Russians are executing their own liberated troops as collaborators with the enemy. Kuznetsov, then known as Grigory Malmudov, is offered safety by the Americans. They'll give him a new identity and documentation for starting over in Russia--if, for a while, he will radio some information regularly to an earlier version of the CIA. So, for a very short time, Kuznetsov is a spy, but his spying is inconsequential. Then, in 1948, the CIA ends its spy program and Kuznetsov is released from any CIA obligations. Meanwhile, he begins rising through the factory system, and it is factory politics that offer some of the novel's most gripping pages. His early years as a peasant child and the murder of his parents during the Revolution have a horrifying, Dickensian shock quality, and his days in Leningrad's Dzerzhinsky Orphanage come as a relief. A fine student, he elects to become a worker rather than go on to a higher education. He marries beautiful Sonya, above him on the chief engineer's staff. He's inducted into the army, fights well, is captured. But at war's end, when the CIA saves his life, he's ordered not to look for Sonya again as that would give away his new identity. He cannot even commit suicide to escape Stalin's secret police: an investigation of his false papers would compromise Sonya, who has risen in the Party. But, as we have known ever since Random Harvest, lost identities must be recovered even if 30 years have passed. Unfortunately, the obligatory recognition scene between Sonya and Kuznetsov is weakened by an epistolary climax which is less forceful than a face-to-face outpouring. Otherwise, this non-espionage novel about a bottom-level ex-spy is worth 20 mole thrillers, if not more.

Pub Date: Jan. 27th, 1985
Publisher: St. Martin's