THE PRIVATE LIFE OF KIM PHILBY by Rufina Philby

THE PRIVATE LIFE OF KIM PHILBY

The Moscow Years
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KIRKUS REVIEW

This text on a fabled espionage case proves to be, like spying itself, occasionally hair- raising and frequently boring, with scant material about three decades of one man's treachery.

Kim Philby, highly placed in the British Secret Service, became the most famous undercover agent of the Cold War. He eventually defected to the Soviet Union, where he spent his last 25 years. Philby's Russian widow (his fourth wife), recounting life in their Moscow flat, presents quotidian details of his generally dull existence after a career of stunning duplicity. Depicted as honest, decent, and permanently devoted to communism, Kim remained an unreconstructed Brit. He completed the Times's crossword puzzles, nibbled matzos in lieu of English water biscuits, smoked too much, and drank to excess. His retirement on a KGB general's pension (though he never attained the rank) was not much different from many a bourgeois corporate executive's—except, of course, for the bugged apartment and the ubiquitous KGB escorts and case officers. Though Kim had much to offer, his spymasters, naturally suspicious, underutilized him. No more John Le Carré life for Philby. The major part of the book, Rufina's tale of a burned-out case and what he was like at home, is, frankly, a bit pedestrian. The spy's own memoirs (previously unpublished), including his recollection of recruitment by the Soviets, is more absorbing. His lecture to KGB freshmen reveals a true corporate mentality, and his admonition against confession bears no hint of own predefection admissions. Appended is a wonderfully sarcastic essay by former KGB operative Lyubimov. Former CIA officer Peake provides a detailed chronology and a critical bibliography.

For fans of espionage, here's a detailed footnote to the oft-told story of a senior turncoat and his Cambridge colleagues. To Western sensibilities, however, the presentation of this notorious mole as a man of integrity is a tough sell, indeed. (16 pages photos)

Pub Date: May 14th, 2000
ISBN: 0-88064-219-X
Page count: 464pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2000