Deep Undercover by Jack Barsky

Deep Undercover by Jack BarskyDeep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America by Jack Barsky, Cindy Coloma, Joe Reilly
Published by Tyndale Momentum on March 21st 2017
Genres: Memoir
Pages: 288
Format: Ebook

I love a good spy story, particularly the true ones. And the memoir of a KGB spy who lived in America for years without being discovered sounded like a fascinating tale, especially since I love the show The Americans. Deep Undercover is the story of the many lives of Albrecht Dittrich, better known as Jack Barsky, as he moved from the son of East German school teachers, to a chemistry professor, to international man of mystery.

What I found utterly fascinating was his life behind the Iron Curtain, growing up in East Germany which felt almost alien to me. His story is a very ordinary story, a normal family life, but it is set amidst the deprivation, and psychological control of a totalitarian communist regime.

This is a very personal story, and the author does a good job of painting colourful and interesting characters, friends and lovers he meets along the way. In fact, in retrospect, some of the people he meets along the way sound like they have much more interesting stories to tell, particularly the Russian agents who recruited, trained and handled him over the years.

In some ways I felt like this book was a bit of a let down. Dittrich is sent off to the US with high goals as obtaining valid identification documents, and some nebulous task of working his way into a position of influence in high society. Which – by the author’s own admission – seems extremely unlikely at best. I have read the stories of the likes of Robert Hanssen, Aldrich Ames, Kim Philby and other homegrown spies who were just a bit more interesting. Perhaps it is a conscious choice that the author does not speak very much of his intelligence activities, or perhaps he did not accomplish very much, but reading this book you will never know.

By the end of the book I realised that Dittrich/Barsky really isn’t a particularly likeable person, at least as presented in the book. It is difficult to deny his philandering ways, the number of failed marriages, and children left behind in his wake. And while there is a redemption at the end of the book, once his identity was revealed by the FBI, it seems like it was foisted on him by happenstance, rather than by choice

The other thing I found a little odious was the denouement where – mostly because he was trying to get into the pants of his secretary – he converts to Christianity, and everything – including his decades of agnosticism – takes on a rosy glow of revisionist belief in an interventionist god. Religion isn’t my thing, and I could have done without the hardcore proselytising he engages in towards the end. It just felt like a disingenuous end to a story which devolved from a potentially interesting spy novel to something akin to soap opera melodrama.

When I first finished the book I had somewhat different feelings to now with the benefit of hindsight. This was a promising story that I felt pulled too many punches, and lacked details of the most interesting parts of this man’s life, which is the actual spy stuff. I am interested in hearing the stories of the Russians like Sergei, and Eugen… which will probably never happen.

Rating Report
Overall: three-stars

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