Hemingway & Gellhorn

The film covers the beginning and the ending of the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn. You may like or hate the film, but this is not the point of the review.

The point is the figure of Mikhail Koltsov, the Soviet operative in Spain during the Civil War. There is little known about the war, referred to as The Spanish War in Russia. The significance of it was overshadowed by the following wars: the ones against Finland and Japan, and later by the big war against Germany.

Koltsov was known to the Soviet readers as a journalist and a founding editor of the Pravda. But there are some accounts of his presence in Spain as of Stalin’s man. Not only he dispatched reports back to Pravda, but mainly coordinated the Soviet help to the Republicans. The Koltsov’s character is presented in the film as such, and not as a journalist. In Hemingway’s To Whom The Bell Tolls he was supposedly a prototype to Karkov.

The collision between Germany and the USSR aiding the opposite sides in the war has never been accounted for as part of the WW2 and surprisingly so. Both countries were active in providing the fighting sides with ammunition, war machinery and most importantly, with people, particularly with the Soviets recruiting volunteers to join Republicans. The Republicans lost at war, and so did the Soviets. Mikhail Koltsov returned to Moscow, was seen at the party function with Joseph Stalin and then disappeared. His disappearance could mean one thing – arrest followed by execution or death in the GULAG.

Just to add to the Hemingway’s book background – there are accounts suggesting the name of Robert Jordan’s prototype. Apparently that was Khadji-Umar Mamsurov. Having been an ethnic Ossetian, he passed for a Spanish peasant and served at first as a military consultant, and later as a combat leader during the fight for Madrid.

Stalin’s Man in Canada: Fred Rose and Soviet Espionage by David Levy

Canadian sources often claim that Gouzenko case was a wake up call to the beginning of the Cold War. Whether it is true or not so much is to the analysts to decide. But running a spy network in your ally territory can’t be considered a friendly gesture.

The book provides very detailed description of the life of Fred Rose (born Fishel Rosenberg in Poland), Soviet intelligence operative and Canadian Member of Parliament. First part of the book focuses on the pre-WW2 labour movement in Montreal and Fred’s dynamic rise as a figure in the game. It mentions successful PR-campaign run by the Soviet Russia, built on victory over Germany but on keeping the skeletons in the closet, or rather burying them in Siberia. As a result of the campaign the Soviet State had grown the army of sympathizers in the West in form of the Communist and Labour Parties, Unions, etc. Quite naturally the next move was to turn the Communists into the spies. And that was another success. So the story of Fred Rose was just one of many. But it stands out for Canada.

The second part of the book is the one I found most interesting. It contains in my opinion the most detailed story of the defection of Igor Gouzenko, at least in regards to uncovering Fred Rose secret relationship with the USSR. Surprisingly, the Soviet intelligence tried to prevent Gouzenko defection, but after the fact they washed their hands and let their operative to sink.

The book tells us about the awkwardness of Canadian political machine, the Prime Minister Mackenzie King trying not to offence Generalissimo Stalin, about clever RCMP game, visibly putting things off, but working hard surreptitiously.

Highly recommended to all interested in Cold War and the history of spying:
Stalin’s Man in Canada: Fred Rose and Soviet Espionage by David Levy from Amazon.

The Americans, Season 1

I was somewhat hesitant to write about the 2013 season of The Americans. I prefer writing about things I adore. But again – figured you might benefit from being warned.

Following is the plot unless you’d seen it:

Soviet undercover agents posing as a happily married couple reside in the US Capitol suburbs. Ever suspicious FBI executive lives across the street. The Soviets are in business of kidnapping prominent Soviet defector and passing him on to the Homeland. Something goes wrong and they have to sneak out from their family meal to the attached garage to check on the victim hidden gagged inside their Buick trunk.

Sounds promising? Yes. The synopsis might suggest another hilarious epic with the magnitude of The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming

Unfortunately to us all – poor execution kills explosive potential. The first two parts of the series are flat boring. If Philip can pass for a neurasthenic Russian, his partner’s Anglo-Saxon chin fails the authenticity test. The scene of the “couple” arriving to the states and getting excited about the air conditioner is cute, but the way they drink vodka in bed gives them away to the attentive viewer.

The scenes inside Soviet Embassy were supposed to be funny. That’s my guess judging by decor and costumes. They were not.

I don’t see where it is going from here, but by the end of the second part I have a feeling that their sickles are dull.

The Americans Season 1, Russian cover
And just for kicks – the Russian language version of the series cover (unknown author).