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, September 29, 2014

Heartfelt Comment

Below is a short excerpt from A Rose for Sergei.  Sergei Kourdakov and I had just returned to my apartment after an evening out.  I was twenty-one, finally on my own, and thrilled that I had recently moved into my own place.

* * * 
Fall 1972

“Why do you live in such a dump?” Sergei asked.

“What do you mean?  I think this place is all right.”  I was surprised and slightly offended by his question.  My apartment was clean and neat.  I knew I didn’t have much, but I was happy with what I did have.  Except for the hand-me-down sofa and two table lamps, I had paid for everything myself.  I was very proud of that.  I had also purchased my car as well.  It was a used Mustang, in great shape, fun, and fast when it needed to be.  The apartment itself didn’t have many conveniences—no air conditioning, and no garbage disposal or dishwasher.  The washing machines and dryers were in the basement, but at least they were in the basement of my building.  Maybe it wasn’t the safest area for a young woman to live, but I was careful.

“A beautiful girl like you should not have to live in a place like this.  You should have nice things given to you.”

It was such a strange comment; clearly he had a different way of thinking.  Maybe he thought all Americans lived a life of luxury….

“Sergei, I don’t need anyone to give me nice things.  I’m very happy with what I have."

He sat still, lost in his thoughts for a moment.  “I can give you nice things someday,” he said tenderly.

I was surprised by his openness.  It was a very heartfelt comment, and I was struck by his genuine feelings that I should be taken care of…that he wanted to take care of me.  For him to make a statement like that when he left everything in his life behind, when he in essence had nothing, was beyond my comprehension.  He was concerned about me, and it touched my soul deeply.

Monday, September 22, 2014

I Would Not Cry

There were times when I was writing my manuscript for A Rose for Sergei that a certain phrase would trigger a memory and I would wonder . . . where have I heard that before?  At that point I would stop writing and reach for my copy of Sergei’s book, The Persecutor.  I had flagged a lot of passages over the years so it was always easy to thumb through the book to find what I was looking for.  It always surprised me that our backgrounds were so different, but our resolve was often the same.

In the excerpt from The Persecutor below, Sergei writes about a time in the orphanage when he was caught reading a book at night when he was supposed to be sleeping.  He refers to the caregivers as aunt or uncle.  Sergei was only 12 years old at the time.

And he began to beat me, hitting me with the edge of that heavy belt buckle again and again, not caring where it landed.  I jumped about trying to dodge his blows, but he held me in such a grip in his left hand I couldn’t shake loose.  Everywhere that buckle landed, it felt like it broke a bone.  I wondered if he was trying to kill me.

I stumbled back to my bed and fell across it, hurting everywhere in my body.  I was sure I must have broken bones.  That beating hurt me more than any I had ever had in my life, but I wasn’t going to let [the uncle] have the satisfaction of seeing me show any pain.  So I covered my head with my blanket and writhed in agony—but I wouldn’t cry.

-Sergei Kourdakov, The Persecutor (Chapter 6, pgs. 61-62)

* * *

In the following excerpt from A Rose for Sergei, I am telling about attending Sergei Kourdakov’s funeral in Washington DC.

January 1973

I was surprised at how many people there were at the church for the funeral service.  It was crowded, and we had to stand the entire time.  We were near the back of the church, but I could see that the casket was open again.  I could see Sergei, and my heart filled with pain.  Even though the church was packed with people, he looked so alone. My heart was breaking for him.  They didn’t love him like I did.  I would not cry though; I had cried enough the day he died.

Monday, September 15, 2014

That Isn't Like You

I caught up with an old friend recently.  He and I used to work at the Pentagon and our paths have not crossed for dozens of years.  I suggested he read A Rose for Sergei, but I didn’t give a clear reason as to why.  I didn’t even mention that I wrote it.  “Please read it,” I asked, “consider it your homework.”  With a cheerful goodbye he said he just might do that.

I think my mystery homework request captured his interest because I got a call back a few days later.  “I did my homework, I read the book,” he said.  He was shocked to hear my story and that I would write a book about Sergei.  “You’re such a private person,” he said.  “Why?” he asked, “Writing about your personal life isn’t like you at all.”

He is right, that isn’t like me at all to share something that private.  I tried to explain the reasons why I wrote about Sergei Kourdakov—I don’t want Sergei to be forgotten, I don’t want his story to be discredited, and it is a story that only I could write.  After hearing my explanation, my friend completely changed his mind.  “That actually is like you,” he said.  “That is just like you to want to stand up for him.

Sometimes we do surprise ourselves.  What we don’t think is like us at all . . . turns out to be exactly who we are.

Monday, September 8, 2014

It Started with a Blog

I am often asked by friends, “Why did you write A Rose for Sergei?”  Before I can even reply, that question is quickly followed up by—“Wow, I didn’t know you ever wanted to write a book.”  My response to their surprised reaction is short, “You’re right, I never thought I would write a book either.”  This is how it all came about.

It started with a blog.  But not my blog, though.  It was a Russian History Blog about Sergei Kourdakov.  It seems that Sergei’s book, The Persecutor, still prompts a lot of comments from readers.  Some people believe Sergei’s story, others do not.  Some discussions are argumentative.  From that blog I discovered the independent movie—Forgive Me, Sergei.

It continued with a movie.  I was glad to discover that someone made a documentary film about Sergei Kourdakov because I didn’t want his story to be forgotten.  Good news, I thought at first.  Then I ordered the film and watched it.  It wasn’t what I expected at all.  Don’t get me wrong, it was well done, took several years to complete, and won several awards.  The outcome just wasn’t what I expected because the producer ended up questioning if Sergei’s story was true.

It ended with a book.  The irony here is that if I had not found the blog, or the movie, then there would be no need to write a book.  I knew Sergei Kourdakov personally, and I decided to write a book about him to offer another perspective.  If there are missing pieces to a puzzle, the picture will always be incomplete.  I wanted to add another piece to the puzzle.  If Sergei had not been thoroughly checked out by our government agencies, if his story had not been checked out, my boss would never have introduced me to him.

* * *

From The Register paper, January 19, 1973
By Raymond J. McHugh
Chief, Washington Bureau
Copley News Service

“A frequent visitor to Washington, Kourdakov met privately with U.S. intelligence officials, leaders of Voice of America and the U.S. Information Agency, high-ranking military officers and members of Congress.”

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Butterfly Effect

I was considering entering my book, A Rose for Sergei, in an eLit Book Award Contest.  I wasn’t sure if it would be of any benefit and if I should take the time.  So I called my sister for advice.  Because Karen is a few years older than I, and therefore must be wiser (which is sometimes debatable), I often ask her for input.  She takes the time to consider all options . . . patience being one of her virtues.

While we were talking on the phone, going over the pros and cons of my idea, Karen suddenly made a snap decision.  Our conversation went something like this:

Karen:  “I’ve got it!  You need to go forward with that idea.”

Me:  “Really, just like that?  No more thoughts on the subject?”

Karen:  “No.  It’s a good idea.”

Me:  “Really?”

Karen:  “Yes it’s a good idea.  I just saw a butterfly float by and I never see butterflies around here!”

Me:  “Sooo . . . because you see a butterfly, I should go ahead?”

Karen:  “Yes.”

Me:  “That’s it then?  You see a butterfly and that’s the answer?”

Karen:  “Yes.”

Me:  “Great, I can’t believe I’m making a decision based on the fact that you saw a butterfly.”  Somehow I knew what was coming next.

Karen:  “The butterfly is a sign!”

Me:  “Oh no . . . here we go with the signs again.”

Karen:  “Yes.  All taken care of.  Decision made.  Bye.”

With that declaration, she hung up the phone.  Sisters!  I love both of mine, they keep me grounded.

Now that my dilemma has been resolved, I will fill out all the forms, pay the fee (of course there is always a fee!) and submit my ebook in the appropriate category.  It will be months before I hear anything back, and I know there are thousands of talented writers . . . my chances of being recognized will be slim.  But I also know this true story about Sergei Kourdakov is long overdue.