Sergei Kourdakov, a former KGB agent and Soviet naval intelligence officer, defected from the USSR at the age of twenty. A year later we met at my Federal Government office in Washington DC. We were watched and followed. “Even you could be spy,” Sergei whispered. My book, A Rose for Sergei, is the true story of our time together.

Monday, February 24, 2014

"We Regret to Inform You . . . ."

I bought Sergei Kourdakov’s book, The Persecutor, right after it was published in 1973.  However, just recently, I decided to also purchase Sergei and Forgive Me, Natasha.  I knew that these three books were the exact same story—different titles were used for sales in other countries.

I was especially looking forward to receiving the book titled Sergei.  Simply because I knew that was the name Sergei had chosen for his book.  When this book arrived a few days ago I was stunned at what I found.  Tucked inside the pages was a neatly folded newsletter.  The caption at the top read:  “We Regret to Inform You of the Death of Sergei Kourdakov.”  The three-page newsletter, dated January 20, 1973 was signed by L. J. Bass, President, Underground Evangelism International.  I remembered hearing about this newsletter but I never knew the contents.  I actually was more than stunned—I felt like a little kid who found a buried treasure that had been hidden away for forty-one years.

I quickly called my sister Karen, knowing that she received her copy of Sergei before me.  After I told her about the newsletter she informed me that her book did not come with any hidden papers.  “I guess it was only supposed to come to you,” she casually replied.  “It wasn’t meant for me.”

After we hung up I called my younger sister Kelly to update her on my surprise find.  She listened as I read the entire paper.  I was sure she would once again tell me . . . “It’s a sign, it’s a sign!” like she so often does.  But she didn’t say that.  Her response caught me off guard this time, “It’s as if Sergei himself made sure you received the book with the newsletter in it.”

I hadn’t really thought of it that way, but she does make an interesting connection.  It’s odd that this newsletter was left inside the book for someone to read so many years later.  And even stranger that it turned out to be me who found it while writing a book about Sergei Kourdakov . . . forty-one years after his death.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Reflection of My Own Eyes

Excerpt from A Rose for Sergei:

“Sergei looked at me intently, put his drink down, and pulled me close to him.  He put his arms around me and buried his face in my long hair . . . .

I turned and looked into his eyes.  I saw confusion, affection, and longing . . . a reflection of my own eyes.  And then it dawned on me.  I was a single female alone in my apartment with a very good looking, extremely strong young man, who defected from the Soviet Union . . . .

I should have been frightened, but for some strange reason I wasn’t.”

Monday, February 10, 2014

Confidence is Over Rated

“How do you find confidence?”  I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation between two women seated near me while waiting for an appointment.  The question was definitely thought provoking and really grabbed my attention.  In most circumstances I would have remained silent and continued reading my magazine.  The urgency in her voice, however, made it clear that she wanted an answer from someone . . . from anyone.  The person asking the question mentioned that her lack of confidence, from a recent lay-off, was preventing her from finding employment.

“It’s normal to lose confidence after a lay-off; anyone would feel that way,” I offered.

“But how do I get my confidence back?” she persisted.

I listened to her past work experience and knew she was qualified for many positions.  The lay-off had thrown her a curve ball and she couldn’t bounce back.  “Sometimes we just need to tell ourselves to get out there and do what we need to do anyway.  We need to push ourselves to try new things . . . even if we don’t have the confidence.  The trying, the pushing forward, is what gives us confidence in the end.”  I shared with her that when I first started writing A Rose for Sergei, I didn’t have any confidence in my ability to write a book.  I also knew that if I sat around waiting for confidence I would still be sitting at my computer, all these months later, staring at a blank screen.

Confidence comes from learning, from trying something new, from succeeding . . . and also from failing.  “Push ahead anyway,” I suggested.  “Don’t wait for confidence to find you.  You might be surprised at what you can accomplish without it.”

Monday, February 3, 2014

Truth in Memoirs

Below are two stories.  For Sergei’s book, The Persecutor, he made cassette tapes which were later transcribed by his editors to tell his story.  A Rose for Sergei is based on the conversations that Sergei and I had during the time we knew each other.  The facts are the same in each story, but they are told in very different ways.

From The Persecutor.  Sergei’s account of his story, retold by editors:

I instinctively knew something was wrong and was terribly frightened.  Then suddenly he grabbed me by the shoulders and began pushing me down in the bathtub until my head was completely submerged.  I struggled to get free and gasp for breath, knowing now that Andrei was trying to kill me.  I tried to shout for help and got a big mouthful of water.  I fought furiously, but Andrei was strong.  Then in sheerest desperation, I pushed and struggled and splashed until I managed to free myself and scrambled out of the tub.  I fled from the bathroom....

Even at the age of six, I knew that with Andrei in the house my life would always be in danger, there in my foster home.  So I made a big decision.  Hurrying to my room, I gathered up some of my clothes, those I could carry easily, stuffed them into a paper bag, and left...forever.
-Sergei Kourdakov, The Persecutor (Chapter 4, pg. 34)

From A Rose for Sergei:

In my mind, his entire upbringing was heartbreaking.  Sergei was born in Novosibirsk in the Soviet Union.  He became an orphan when he was four years old.  His father was killed while serving in the Soviet Army.  Soon after that his mother died, and Sergei was taken in by family friends.  The family welcomed him but after a few years their troubled son took his anger out on Sergei.

“The boy put hands on my neck and shoulders.  He pushed me under the water in the bathtub.  He held me there; he tried to kill me.  I thought I was going to die.”  I was stunned when Sergei put his hands on his throat to demonstrate.  For only a fraction of a second I saw the hurt and sadness in Sergei’s eyes as he recalled that frightening memory.  In that instant I saw the little boy that he was never allowed to be.  He quickly pushed those feelings aside and continued talking in his strong, confident manner.  “I fought to get away from this boy.  I fought him hard.  I do not understand why he did this.  I was just little boy.”  Sergei shook his head slowly back and forth, “I think maybe he had problem in his mind.”  Fearful of eventually being killed by the son, Sergei had no other choice but to run away and try to live on the streets.  He was six years old but was determined to survive.  It was difficult to hear how Sergei’s life had been turned upside down…I felt the pain in his voice.

* * * 

Which account is true?  They both are.  I know there has been a lot of discussion about whether Sergei’s memoir is true.  Even though Sergei needed an editor to tie his story together in his book, they were always Sergei’s words.  A story still the same story.