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Book review: Spies in Our Midst:The Incredible Story of Igor Gouzenko

Theresa Jobateh

2009-Jun-07 20:19

Spies in Our Midst: The Incredible Story of Igor Gouzenko Cold War Spy
L.D. Cross
Altitude Publishing, 2005
(Part of the True Canadian Amazing Stories series)

History is not one of my favourite subjects. Any Canadian history I learned in high school did not engage me. That can be attributed to the stale curriculum or the usual distractions surrounding adolescent girls. (Most likely the latter)

I heard about this Igor Gouzenko affair many years later but didn't think much of it. Enter "Pat", a charming old gent I met in the autumn of 2008 while strolling through Dundonald Park one afternoon. He was happy to engage in conversation with a pleasant young lady and mentioned that he came to the park often during the day. He tested my knowledge of the origin of the Macintosh apple and recent political kerfluffels in the Conservative government. He then directed my attention to an old apartment building across Somerset Street and mentioned the significance of Igor Gouzenko. Who?

As he lead me over to the heritage plaques erected at the north side of the park, he passionately described how this Russian cipher clerk and his brave actions revealed covert activities by the Russian diplomats and Canadian citizens in the early 1940's. I observed the worn down building and read the plaques. After an awkward pause, I thanked him for the educational chat then headed back to work.

Enter Dyan Cross, who was one of the guest speakers with tips for writing non-fiction at the March 2009 OIW meeting. My ears perked up when I heard that one of the many books she wrote was about this Igor Gouzenko fella. During the panel discussion, all the speakers held our interest and provided helpful advice from forming ideas, performing research to actually getting published. At the end of the meeting, I eagerly purchased a signed copy of the "Igor" book from Dyan. Surrounded by other inquisitive attendees, she nodded politely when I tried to retell my encounter with "Pat" at the park.

By the time I got around to reading the book, I found it just right for the morning bus ride to work. It was easy to absorb and the chapters were short enough for a day's reading. Cross did a fine job in describing the ordeal Igor and eventually his wife endured with being turned away from the newspaper and many government offices while he had secret documents stuffed in his shirt. My heart went out to them while nobody seemed to care about the urgency of his visit. It began pumping at the part when they had to spend the night in the apartment building, taking refuge with a kind neighbour while the Russians tore through the belongings in their own.

Now that I have read the book I feel better educated on this subject, the lead-in to the cold war. I could not believe that Canadian citizens were willing to provide secret documents to the Russians! Traitors! I was disappointed that Mackenzie King took so long to accept the truth that the Russia with whom he was trying maintain a friendship was so deceitful and dangerous. Yes, I'd have to agree with "Pat" that brave Igor played an important part in Canadian history.

The plaques commemorating this historical site are fading. I guess someone should approach the Ministry of Culture, Heritage and Recreation...

The soft-cover book is a little over 120 pages if you count the epilogue, appendix and index. Distributed by James Lorimer and Company It is also available locally from the Baico Bookstore, 294 Albert Street (corner Kent), telephone 613-829-5141.

Theresa Jobateh

2013-Aug-13 11:45

August 2013 update:

It looks like the plaques have been replaced. Follow this link for recent photographs and my thoughts on integrity during the cold war events and present day.

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