Tag: Russia

A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles

May 15th, 2018 — 1:01pm

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

This is an interesting, although somewhat drawn out novel about an era that I have not thought much about. Through the eyes of its main character, Count Rostov, we go through a handful of decades starting in 1922 as the Russian Revolution takes place. Our protagonist is basically sentenced to house arrest in the luxurious Metropol  Hotel in the heart of Moscow. He must change his living quarters to a small room from the prestigious suite he would frequently inhabit before the revolution. He becomes the head waiter in this hotel where he was previously a very honored patron.

Count Rostov befriends a nine-year-old girl who is also living in a hotel and who runs around exploring all the nooks and crannies of this fascinating building and even comes across a pass key for all the rooms. Ultimately, decades later he meets the grown daughter of this young girl. The story is a complicated one, but allows the reader to get a perspective of how life in Russia evolved and impacted many people in different ways. It is also a story about how a mature educated man might be able to live his life if his boundaries were suddenly limited to one building mostly with the same people, although occasionally encountering others who were passing through and even has an opportunity for some romance.

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1 comment » | FG - Fiction General

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

June 24th, 2013 — 11:11pm

Red SparrowThe Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews  –  The Sparrow School is a school for specialized training of selected Russian spies in the art of sexual seduction which becomes helpful in recruiting people to betray their government and work for Russia. One of the central  characters of this book did go through this school although this is not the main emphasis of this true to life spy story. It is true to life because the author, Jason Matthews, like John La Carre, Ian Flemming and other well known writers did serve as an agent but not for the British as they did, or for the Russians, but for the Americans. He worked for the CIA for 33 years having postings all over the world, being a station chief in several countries and by his own admission recruiting double agents and training many of his junior colleagues in the art of spycraft. The details of carrying out espionage in a foreign country or trying to catch a traitor in your own country apparently requires meticulous attention to detail, complicated dead end drops, surveillance, counter- surveillance, studying everyone and every thing in the street, parks or alleys  around you , looking for people who might be looking for you, taking circuitous routes, doubling back, using parallel patterns of following targets, making “fish-hook” changes in direction and being a master of code words and code messages. There are hidden video cameras and microphones, special transmitters that shoot signals to satellites. There are agents from both sides that try to recruit each other and there are moles deep in the government of  one side or the other. Yet the story rings true not only because the author lived in this world but because we all know from the newspapers and television something about this history of the real world of espionage that continues even after the end of the so called “cold war”. Matthews does more than present us with authenticity. He also shows us his ability to write and capture images that imprint in the reader’s imagination. Here is a passage which the author is setting up an important event.

Thick and ragged as a  plug of surgical cotton from the the box, the fog occasionally licked up over the roadway of the bridge.  The lamps along the bridgeway came on and caught the fog, blowing right to left making it seem as if the bridge itself were moving on casters along the riverbank.

His passages, which included people  were even more vivid such as the description of a guy being murdered with a wire on his neck as he had sex with an female agent who had no idea this was going to happen. While the book had its share of blood there was much more an exploration of the motivation that allows people to make decisions to become a traitor and allow themselves to be turned. The acronym MICE is one example; money, ideology, conscience and ego. There are several characters that we come to understand (or think that we do), twists and turns, page turning or Kindle clicking tension and some inside insight into the world of spies. We also have a new successful writer on the scene. I understand he is working on his next story. This one his first, could lend itself to a sequel.  (2013)

Comment » | FT- Fiction Thriller

Dark Star by Alan Furst

December 1st, 2012 — 3:26pm

Dark Star by Alan Furst

I don’t recall every reading a spy story from the point of view of a Russian agent before and during World War II. This is what makes this novel by  Alan Furst unique and quite interesting. It does seem logical that the various Russian spy agencies would be very concerned about Hitler’s rise to power. The main protagonist is a Russian journalist Nanzsura who in order to survive himself gets drawn deep and deeper into the intricacies of being  a full fledged undercover spy. The novel is well written and provides an exciting pace with secret meetings, elaborate techniques of passing information, the requisite beautiful women, double agents, murder, secret codes and whatever else you would imagine should be in a story about this subject. It also is filled with many Russian names of people, streets and other named locations  as well as ample mention of Russian authors and specific  events that happened in Russia at various times that  are difficult to follow by a non student of Russian history and culture. I would imagine the story would be more enjoyable if the reader had a better familiarity with all these names and events.

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