A Personal Book Review
Have you ever read a book that describes the atrocities of a savage period in history, yet instead of being appalled by the vivid and gory descriptions, you find yourself snickering shamelessly? Have you ever read a book wherein the protagonist is scared witless about something you consider normal that it appeared really funny? Have you ever read a book wherein the situations, apparently leading to the protagonist’s demise, actually led to his promotion, that everything appeared laughable?
If you haven’t, then read this book by Martyn Burke. Although I must warn you that it may be hard to acquire since I just bought my copy for 20php at a Booksale branch. But the book is worth every penny you would ever spend on it – whether it be 20php because it’s from a Booksale store or $5 because it’s from Amazon.com.
The book tells the story of Dmitri, a Russian born and raised to hate USA , which the Russians call Enemy Number One. However, instead of hating the rival country, Dmitri grew up secretly loving and longing to be in the shores of Enemy Number One. He had read about the glamorous lives of the people there from smuggled copies of Life Magazine and had seen the contrast of the bleak and dreary Russian life to the exciting and liberating life of the Americas. Thus he studied hard and used his brilliance to become noticed by the oldKremlin men and as such be sent as one of the most promising spies to Enemy Number One. He has been given the task of devising schemes to destroy Enemy Number One – a task that although he didn’t want he still accepted just so he could be allowed to live in the country of his dreams.
And the fun started there. His wife, learning that women in America are allowed to wear nice and beautiful dresses started craving for all the niceties that the democratic world can offer and that the communist world would consider traitorous. With the mounting problem of his wife’s obsession adds the danger posed by his childhood friend – Lavrenti, whose parents were mercilessly implicated by Dmitri’s father as traitors to the country thus having them shot and their kids – Lavrenti included – sent to slave labor camps. It just so happened that Lavrenti escaped the labor camps and came to America , working as a spy for the CIA and having a life-long passion of killing Dmitri in a slow and painful process. That process? Make him fear constantly for his life.
But life in Enemy Number One is not all gore and mishaps for Dmitri. He somehow managed to buy portions in the stock market and end up owning a huge corporation – Yagoda Enterprises. It all started with his ignorance in getting rid of his wife’s winnings from a supermarket lottery – he invested the money in the stock market thinking that it would just end up in the drain. Unfortunately, or fortunately, his stockbroker was somewhat a young budding genius who was able to modestly balloon the invested money. When Dmitri realized what a stock market was, and that he was turning into the capitalist that they so hated, he was secretly delighted and proceeded to use the immense classified information that they receive as spies to predict which companies would boom and would be worth the investment. In time, Dmitri became a successful capitalist hiding under the pretense of a janitor in order to gain access to his magnificent building. It was not till the end of the book that Dmitri actually exposed himself to the hundreds of Yagoda employees.
The conclusion of the book, for me, is somewhat disappointing. I have fallen in love with Dmitri and his incessant fears of Stalin and the old Kremlin men, his schemes for saving Enemy Number One which often backfires and instead morphs into schemes for destroying Enemy Number One and his ability to find true love in the arms of a cleaning lady in his company. Just when one suspected that everything was going to turn out well for Dmitri – he has been introduced as the rightful owner of Yagoda, he has the love of his life in his arms and his wife has found contentment in some other rich man’s paradise and as such will no longer be a pest in his back – Burke gives a most memorable twist leaving you clueless till the very end.
I am tempted to spoil the end here but I want the reader to also share in my element of surprise. The reason why it took me so long to write about the book was that my emotions got mixed with the book, I ceased becoming objective, and thus ended up bitterly disappointed. The book was brilliantly written – I couldn’t ask for more. Every page is a turner; every chapter ending a witty comeback. Even at the very end, at the very last page, I kept dreaming and hoping that a new page would sprang up containing additional information about Dmitri and his exploits – something that would tell me that the end was not the end but just the mere beginning. Maybe there was a sequel. Maybe there wasn’t.
But in all respects the book ended well. I guess any other ending would make everything sappy and I can see that the author’s styles was not such. He’s not into melodrama or conventional endings. His plot was brilliant; his descriptions engaging. The reality of Russia and the communist way of life was presented without fail and no words were minced to bring to light the horror experienced by the people in that country. Yet the otherwise dark and somber tone of the descriptions were lifted by the witty remarks and mishaps of the protagonist leaving the book light and easy to read.
I wish everyone would have the opportunity to read this book. It’s a must read, if you ask me. Thumbs up to Burke, whoever he is. 🙂