A real-life Cold War tale filled with nostalgia, exuberance and satirical wit.

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Lifflander’s debut memoir of his time as an aspiring spy in Moscow, where he fell in love with a Russian woman who may have been keeping an eye on him for the KGB.

Lifflander thought his dream of being a spy had come true when, as a recent graduate in 1987, he got a job as a driver/mechanic at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. He was soon assigned to the On-Site Inspection Agency, part of the treaty between the USSR and U.S. to eliminate nuclear missiles; essentially, the American OSIA ensured that the Soviets were implementing the treaty. Sofia was one of the Soviet “escorts,” comprised mostly of young ladies who oversaw the U.S. inspectors while also (covertly) watching for potential intelligence-gathering. Lifflander and Sofia tried to hide their developing romance but quickly realized that hiding a relationship isn’t easy when you’re surrounded by spies. Both the author’s title and foreword hint at the story’s tongue-in-cheek approach: Lifflander refers to the USSR’s alarming shortage of socks as the “sock crisis”; and he notes that a chef at the missile inspection facility graduated from the CIA—the Culinary Institute of America. But Lifflander doesn’t force the humor; it’s derived from the absurdity of countless situations and twisted activities, like the Americans’ intermittently moving a trio of pink flamingos for no other reason than to keep the ever observing Soviets guessing. Lifflander’s predicament became considerably dourer when the KGB suspected he was an intelligence officer, though it was a hilarious misunderstanding: He was digging through basement walls in an American building searching for a bug merely out of boredom. The book’s final act, however, which centers on Lifflander and Sofia’s (and Sofia’s son, Max) trying to make a future together, turns somber and somewhat depressing. The story’s still engaging, though, even without the laughs, thanks to Lifflander, whose refusal to give up on a life with Sofia is something to be admired. Lifflander includes a number of black-and-white photographs to complement the text, but his descriptions are so dynamic and graphic that the pictures aren’t necessary; for instance, when Lifflander and Sofia walk into a cathedral and a “sea of babushkas,” readers will already have the image.

A real-life Cold War tale filled with nostalgia, exuberance and satirical wit.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2014

ISBN: 978-0692259948

Page Count: 282

Publisher: Gilbo Shed

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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