History, Memoir, Nonfiction

Two Lives, One Russia, by Nicholas Daniloff

9780395446010I don’t know if our fascination with Russia will ever diminish, partly because the culture, government, and history are so different from that of the US.  And it is this fascination, plus a job offer and the desire to investigate his family history, that motivated Nicholas Daniloff to move his family there in the late 1970’s.

Yet, despite knowing the language, the quirks of living in a country under the umbrella of so much mistrust, and being familiar with the experiences of other journalists who had been detained by the KGB, Daniloff himself was arrested just days before he and his wife were set to move back to the States.

Imagine–I don’t think we can–being nervous about forming new relationships for fear of the person being a KGB agent. Imagine having to save personal discussions for out on the balcony because of KGB microphones in your apartment.  Imagine using code words on the phone to avoid suspicion–even when you are doing nothing wrong.  This is what life was like.  Mistrust, fear, and deprivation. Deprivation of basic needs, information, and access to the rest of the world.

The “two lives” referred to in the book are the author’s and his great-great grandfather, a military leader at the time of the Decemberist movement.  Nicholas Daniloff has a unique ring that belonged to his ancestor, and the chapters switch back and forth between the events surrounding his arrest and his research into his great-great grandfather’s life and military service.

I found myself deeply fascinated with the chapters dealing with his imprisonment and endless interrogations.  The stress he underwent as he was accused of being a spy and handling illegal documents must have been terrible.  My attention waned during the other chapters.  There were too many tangents, too many names to remember, and too many branches of explanations.

If the entire book had dealt with his arrest, with only minor references to his ancestor, I think I would’ve been a lot more interested.  But I do understand the author’s need to draw parallels between his 2 week ordeal and the ten-year imprisonment his great-great grandfather endured.  Their experiences were not entirely alike, but it made the author feel closer to him, which is a trait many of us have to family members we hardly knew.

7.5 Stars out of 10

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