Book Review: A Spy In The Archives by Sheila Fitzpatrick

A Spy In the Archives by Sheila Fitzpatrick
A Spy In the Archives by Sheila Fitzpatrick

Title: A Spy In The Archives

Author: Sheila Fitzpatrick

Genre: History, Non-Fiction, Memoir, Soviet Russia 

Publisher: Melbourne University Publishing (and courtesy of NetGalley)

Published: September 1, 2013

Page Amount: 258 pages

Blurb From Goodreads: In 1968 historian Sheila Fitzpatrick was ‘outed’ by the Russian newspaper Sovetskaya Rossiya as all but a spy for Western intelligence. She was in Moscow at the time, working in Soviet archives for her doctoral thesis on AV Lunacharsky, the first Soviet Commissar of Enlightenment after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
Despite KGB attention, and the impossibility of finding a suitable winter coat, Sheila felt more at ease in Moscow than in Britain—a feeling cemented by her friendships with Lunacharsky’s daughter, Irina, and brother-in-law, Igor, a reform-minded old Bolshevik who became a surrogate father and a intellectual mentor. An affair with young Communist activist, Sasha, pulled her further into a world in which she already felt at home. For the Soviet authorities and archives, however, she would always be marked as a foreigner, and so potentially a spy.
Punctuated by letters to her mother in Melbourne and her diary entries of the time, and borne along by Fitzpatrick’s wry, insightful narrative, A Spy in the Archives captures the life and times of Cold War Russia.

Why Read: Another fantastic Net-Galley pick, I really loved that I was approved for this read. It provided not only great insight into what it meant to visit Soviet Russia, but I personally felt interested in the main characters experiences throughout the book.

Review: The Spy in the Archives was not what I believed it would be. The gritty detail that Fitzpatrick puts into her past is stunning, and the detailed read into Soviet History was one I loved getting a special inside peek on.

From a character perspective, it was hard to empathize with Sheila, the main character. Not only was she vaguely rude towards her mother and fiancé, she also put herself into situations that seemed not-so-smart. But her honesty made up for the traits, and soon her interactions with Igor and Irina began to feel like close conversations with a friend.

The plot did a strange thing in this memoir, and although I cannot precisely dislike it, it really threw me off. Instead of hinting towards the climax of the book, it came out in the first chapter and in the blurb to tell you exactly what was going to happen. I found that…. Well, firstly strange. But ultimately it didn’t lend itself exactly to prime storytelling central, but it was an interesting manner in which to tell a story.

From beginning to end, A Spy in the Archives was an exciting read. Sheila’s interactions with spies and friends alike provide an interesting insight into the environment of the Cold War within the Soviet Union. Historians will find excitement within this novel, and although it does not read as a thriller – the escalating moments of the Cold War are pressuring enough that you won’t be able to put it down.

Rating: 4.2/5 Stars

Review Coming Soon: In Turkey I am Beautiful by Brendan Shanahan

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