A stiff but well-researched account of the defection of a group of Soviet airmen at the height of the Cold War.
In 1976, after just weeks of harried planning, Capt. Mikhail Makarov leads the crew of a Soviet TU-95 airplane in their defection from the U.S.S.R. Though his plan is swiftly carried out, his decision to leave his homeland has been decades in the making. After years of distinguished service for the country’s air force–including two prestigious awards deeming him a â€œHero of the Soviet Union”–Mikhail, increasingly disillusioned with Communist Russia, is court-martialed, demoted and sent to finish his career in the backwaters of the mother country. Deemed â€œpolitically unreliable,” Mikhail–forever a Russian but never a Communist Party member–bridles under Soviet rule and eventually plans a daring airborne escape. To do so, he must convince his crew to leave with him, develop a viable flight plan and avoid the potentially fatal attention of innumerable Soviet military officers and KGB stooges. The author tells Mikhail’s tale with meticulous care; his account is thoroughly detailed and filled with the depth of research that turns rough histories into credible recreations. But his keen attention to historical realism has drained some of the drama from the rest of his tale, leaving it somewhat flat. His characters rarely drop the military argot, responding to each other stiffly, even in unguarded moments. And their dialogue is too fully immersed in Communist agitprop. Certainly, pro-government propaganda was ubiquitous in Russia in the mid-’70s, and Big Brother’s gaze was unrelenting. Though his characters are trapped in the Soviet straitjacket, Vargas-Caba needs to let them come alive more frequently, if only so his readers can more ably identify with them.
An admirable effort that needs to loosen up.