For experts in Soviet-American relations or for devotees of suspenseful spy fiction, this memoir may not provide enough interest. For general readers with a concern about foreign affairs and a curiosity about Soviet government, Shevchenko’s reminiscences will be revelatory.
After a brief but dramatic account of his decision to defect, Shevchenko traces his development from “a kind of clockwork mechanism” in support of Soviet policies to an angry, embittered opponent of the Communist system. His book ends with a detailed account of his escape from his Soviet colleagues at the United Nations and his reflections about the future of the Soviet Union.
Although he was steadily promoted to various responsible positions in the diplomatic corps and gave few overt signs of doubting Soviet ideology, Shevchenko describes several incidents when his compulsion to be critical almost cost him a career.
A few of his colleagues shared his reservations, but he was advised to adopt the standard practice of ruthlessly suppressing his own convictions in order to be successful in a totalitarian regime.
The terror of Stalinism in the 1940’s, the brief period of liberalization under Nikita Khrushchev, the Cuban missile crisis, the personalities of Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, Andrei Gromyko, and other prominent Soviet officials, and the various international issues debated in the United Nations during the postwar period, are covered here in a frank, colorful, and analytical manner.
Shevchenko’s sensitivity is unusual among Soviet politicians and diplomats and is more characteristic of exiles such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Shevchenko was a valuable source of information for American intelligence officers, although some of the details in his book have been disputed, and, after its publication, he admitted to having made some errors.