A journalist’s sure-footed probing into Lee Harvey Oswald’s three years in Russia finds an unsettling time of retrenchment and rage.
Why did Oswald shoot President John F. Kennedy? That, writes journalist Savodnik, remains the key question—not whether the gunman had any accomplices. The author believes Oswald acted alone and was essentially fulfilling an inescapable channeling of estrangement that found expression, after his failed Russian experiment, in sharpshooting and assassination. Largely peripatetic and homeless, never fitting in anywhere, thanks to a dysfunctional home life, absent dad and erratic mother, Oswald eventually gravitated toward the Marines in 1956 in order to escape his mother. The regimen did not suit him, since essentially he was unschooled and undisciplined, and his vague yearnings toward Marxism were naïve and unformed. Still, he managed to force the hand of the Soviet Union when he tried to defect, then attempted suicide to garner sympathy for his cause; incredibly, Russia allowed him to stay and even gave him a job and apartment in Minsk, thus endowing this inconsequential transient with something like heroic status. Even women found the outsider attractive, something he never had experienced before, although most of his co-workers at the Experimental Department in the Minsk Radio Factory kept their distance from the rather too-clean, meek former American. Savodnik gamely looks at the various friendships Oswald made, surely all of them monitored by the KGB, as his resolve to stay began to crumble after a year and some months. He recognized that he would not find a home in Russia as he had hoped—another in a long series of “interloping” failures. Oswald’s dissatisfaction would fatally seize on something, somewhere, soon.
An oddly intimate foray into the life of this most banal specimen of evil.