The Story of My Disappearance

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Like the eco-saboteur who was the main character of his earlier literary thriller, ARCHANGEL (1995), the protagonist of Paul Watkins’ newest novel, THE STORY OF MY DISAPPEARANCE, inhabits the shadowy world of the outlaw/outsider. Paul Wedekind is a man in limbo, hiding from a violent and guilty past.

Now a deep-sea fisherman in Newport, Rhode Island, Wedekind was born in the former East Germany in 1964. At twenty-four, he was drafted into the East German Army and sent to fight in Afghanistan. There he was blackmailed by the Stasi—the East Germany secret police—into spying on his fellow recruit and boyhood friend, Ingo Budde, a man suspected of black marketeering and drug trafficking.

In Afghanistan, the two men were captured and held prisoner by the Mujahadeen. Both were tortured, and Ingo died from his wounds. Paul was returned in a hostage trade, but his Stasi superiors registered him as killed in action and transferred him to the Russian KGB. After training, Paul was sent to the United States and assigned to work on a fishing boat captained by the beautiful KGB agent Suleika, The couple’s only assignment was to occasionally ferry a mysterious visitor back and forth between the Rhode Island coast and a waiting Soviet submarine.

Time passes, the Berlin Wall falls, the Germanys are united, and the Soviet empire splits apart. Paul and Suleika have built a successful—if tentative—life together. They still rendezvous with the submarine when ordered, but they no longer are absolutely sure if they are still working for the same masters.

There comes a day, however, when the slow, comfortable drift of Paul and Suleika’s life comes to a dizzying halt. The couple witnesses the brutal murder of a man in a bar, and Paul recognizes the killer as his old friend, Ingo Budde. Suddenly a life of comfortable ambiguity has turned into a complex puzzle of identities and obligations.

Paul Watkins’ first-person narrative is startlingly compelling. It is so convincing, in fact, that many readers will briefly wonder if it just might all be true—especially after the main character legally changes his name to Paul Watkins and announces his plans to become a writer.