REVIEW: The Spy and The Traitor by Ben Macintyre
The celebrated author of A Spy Among Friends and Rogue Heroes returns with his greatest spy story yet, a thrilling Cold War-era tale of Oleg Gordievsky, the Russian whose secret work helped hasten the collapse of the Soviet Union.
If anyone could be considered a Russian counterpart to the infamous British double-agent Kim Philby, it was Oleg Gordievsky. The son of two KGB agents and the product of the best Soviet institutions, the savvy, sophisticated Gordievsky grew to see his nation’s communism as both criminal and philistine. He took his first posting for Russian intelligence in 1968 and eventually became the Soviet Union’s top man in London, but from 1973 on he was secretly working for MI6.
For nearly a decade, as the Cold War reached its twilight, Gordievsky helped the West turn the tables on the KGB, exposing Russian spies and helping to foil countless intelligence plots, as the Soviet leadership grew increasingly paranoid at the United States’s nuclear first-strike capabilities and brought the world closer to the brink of war. Desperate to keep the circle of trust close, MI6 never revealed Gordievsky’s name to its counterparts in the CIA, which in turn grew obsessed with figuring out the identity of Britain’s obviously top-level source. Their obsession ultimately doomed Gordievsky: the CIA officer assigned to identify him was none other than Aldrich Ames, the man who would become infamous for secretly spying for the Soviets.
Unfolding the delicious three-way gamesmanship between America, Britain, and the Soviet Union, and culminating in the gripping cinematic beat-by-beat of Gordievsky’s nail-biting escape from Moscow in 1985, Ben Macintyre’s latest may be his best yet. Like the greatest novels of John le Carré, it brings readers deep into a world of treachery and betrayal, where the lines bleed between the personal and the professional, and one man’s hatred of communism had the power to change the future of nations.
Dear Ben Macintyre,
This was my first book of yours, but certainly not the last one. It was so well-written. I know that this is a well-known writer, but as I said this was my first introduction to his work and I was beyond impressed. And it is so true that real life spy dramas are often more interesting than the works of fiction. I vaguely remember when I was a teenager in the former Soviet Union during perestroika times reading about Oleg Gordievskiy – the former KGB who spied for British, but I have not read any detailed stories about his life and what he endured.
I will be honest. I usually despise trators even if they betrayed the totalitarian regime I left behind. But the spy who turned for ideological reasons and who did so much to prevent a lot of horrible things happening has my utmost respect. Especially after this book.
This book starts in 1985 when Gordievsky is called back to Moscow allegedly to be confirmed at the highest position at the top of Soviet KGB residentura in London. At that point in time, Gordievsky already spied for MI6 for many years and of course they considered the possibility that the call back to Moscow may have been the sign that Gordievsky was betrayed, but after the long discussion and thought Gordievsky decides to go back. And the first chapter stops when he realizes that KGB may have visited his apartment. I am telling you, I looked in the end, I knew that he survived in real life ( even though I had no idea what he and people who helped to get him out from Moscow endured), and I was still worried.
We learn about his life, about him turning to spy for MI6. We get to meet the colorful cast of characters who worked for MI6, for the KGB and some spies from other countries, but Gordievsky is the front and center of the book.
The book is well-sourced and clearly the author had a lot of conversations with Gordievsky himself (whose location in England he still would not disclose – understandably so) and with other people and MI6 officers’ real names are not disclosed either.
If you think it was a crazy plan to smuggle the betrayed spy out of Soviet Union, it surely was. But if you think this was the plan impossible to carry out, read this book.
Yay! My library has this along with several other books by Macintyre.
@Jayne: I really thought it was a very engaging book. I hope it will work for you.
Great review, Sirius. I’ve seen other strong recommendations for this at various book chat places, but your endorsement is sending it straight to my TBR, since we tend to agree on these kinds of books. Thanks!
Sunita thanks. Well let me know when you get to this one :).