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THE STORY OF MY DISAPPEARANCE by Paul Watkins

THE STORY OF MY DISAPPEARANCE

By Paul Watkins

Pub Date: April 17th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-17995-2
Publisher: Picador

 A sixth novel, both action-packed and curiously muted, from the accomplished young author of such varied and adventurous fiction as Night Over Day Over Night (1988) and Archangel (1996). The protagonist Paul Wedekind relates, both in chronological order and interpolated extended flashbacks, his history as a promising engineering student in his native East Germany, recruitment by the secret police (``Stasi'') to spy on a friend who's suspected of dealing drugs, military service and captivity in Afghanistan under Soviet command, and, following a prisoner exchange, his later service in America for the Russian KGB. He is posted to Newport, Rhode Island, and works on a fishing boat whose owners, Mathias and Suleika Hanhart, are actually smuggling Russian operatives off submarines and onto land for miscellaneous covert activities. But Mathias has recently died, and Paul replaces him as the beautiful Suleika's accomplice in a dangerous series of tasks that comprises a challenging existential adventure. If that sounds a bit overcrowded, then be advised that it's only preparatory to a convoluted story that begins with a violent murder, triggering Paul's vivid memories of the past that he labors to escape, and includes such crisply detailed scenes as a violent nor'easter that sinks their boat, a rendezvous with an old friend presumed dead but apparently unkillable, and a tense climax at sea that represents Paul's last chance to cast off the past, reinvent himself (he has become ``Paul Watkins,'' a U.S. citizen), and make a new life with Suleika. Though it's knowingly plotted, the novel nonetheless bumps rather awkwardly between present action and flashback, and its love scenes--which seem to come out of nowhere--are inert and unconvincing. Another step in Watkins's carefully calculated progress toward becoming our contemporary Hemingway. Not his best, but not half bad.