EMMA: A True Story of Treason by June Callwood

EMMA: A True Story of Treason

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Emma Woikin, the drab young Canadian cipher clerk implicated in the 1945 Gouzenko spy case, was a Doukhober: a member of the Russian pacifist/anarchist sect that found refuge in western Canada in the 1890s. That circumstance adds some interest to this crudely exculpatory account of her life. The case itself has long been a civil-rights scandal: Emma and others detained after the defection of Soviet clerk Gouzenko were intimidated into self-incrimination without counsel or notification of their right to remain silent. But, as Callwood acknowledges, Emma was determined to plead guilty: charmed by handsome Soviet military attach‚ Vsevolod Sokolov, steeped in Russian culture and attracted by Soviet claims to social justice, Emma had knowingly passed along secret foreign-policy messages--though, as Callwood claims, they were not (as then represented) of much consequence. Emma, we're ready to believe, was disaffected both by her Doukhober heritage--an outsider in Canada, anti-government and pro-working class in the Doukhober tradition--and by her personal experience of poverty: she blamed the still-birth of her first and only child, and the suicide of her adored first husband, on lack of proper medical care. But Callwood also has Emma's cheerfulness and helpfulness to contend with: her devotion to nieces and nephews, her model behavior in prison, her conscientiousness as a secretary, her attentiveness to second husband Louis--and these she attributes to Emma's thinking herself the daughter of the hired man, and thus required to be ""beyond reproach."" Then there is Emma's sudden decline and death from alcoholism--after, conjecturally, a disillusioning 1968 trip to the USSR. Despite Callwood's extensive interviewing of relatives and acquaintances, the portrait of Emma doesn't cohere. But if there is little emotional involvement--and much about the Doukhobers, and the case, that is extraneous to her situation--we do have intimations, from Emma's combination of caginess and forthrightness under questioning, of peasant shrewdness and innocence, and personal intransigence.

Pub Date: March 25th, 1985
Publisher: Beaufort