HOW NOT TO BECOME A SPY by Justin Lifflander
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HOW NOT TO BECOME A SPY

A memoir of love at the end of the Cold War
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KIRKUS REVIEW

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. 9th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0692259948
Page count: 282pp
Publisher: Gilbo Shed
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2014




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