Potent memoir demonstrates the dangers of collecting and dispersing news from behind the Iron Curtain. The book is dedicated to slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya and “the other Russian and Soviet journalists who died under mysterious circumstances after the collapse of the Soviet Union.”
Daniloff (Journalism/Northeastern Univ.; Two Lives, One Russia, 1988, etc.) began his career as a copy boy for the Washington Post in 1956. Following a brief trip to Moscow in 1959 and stints working in London, Paris and Geneva, the author followed his father’s Russian bloodline and headed back to the country to work as a junior UPI correspondent in 1961. Early on, his expectations about the Soviet Union were debunked by the bureau chief, Henry Shapiro. With an exacting eye for detail and a flair for storytelling that captures the uneasy mood of the times, Daniloff provides captivating anecdotes about his days in Moscow—and many surprises. For example, he recalls the unusually pleasant living conditions, with chauffeurs and imported foods available at the drop of a hat. He also reveals more familiar details about strict censorship, how many contacts were not to be trusted and how important conversations were often conducted outside, away from potential bugs. The author also offers a unique perspective on many key events of the times—including Kennedy’s assassination (Daniloff’s bureau filed a story about Lee Harvey Oswald’s time in Russia not long before he traveled to Dallas) and the space race—all told in front of a vivid backdrop of fear and paranoia. Recollections of Daniloff’s career outside the Soviet Union, such as his stint as a foreign-affairs correspondent on Capitol Hill in the mid ’70s, prove less interesting, but he doesn’t linger too long on these sections. The book reaches a natural conclusion with a reprinted interview from U.S. News & World Report, in which Daniloff muses on how life has changed in the Soviet Union during the 20-year period since he first traveled there, and a chapter that details the chase for information during the Chernobyl disaster.
An astute, absorbing account.