Moscow Airlift ISBN: 9781046409454, Penmore Press, an e-book copyright and written by Mark Liebman.
Setting: A storm of prominent historical occurrences more or less coalesced in the early1990’s. Gorbachev’s policies of attempting to bring Russia into the ‘modern world’ appeared to be the precipitating factor in the Russian events, Actually, the cause of the disruption in the Soviet Union was a rising discontent with the impoverished position in which the homeland found itself coupled with declarations of independence by its own republics before and concurrent with the end of the Warsaw Pact. The underlying problem was that the Soviets did not have sufficient resources or technology to compete with the west. They were spending 25% of their economic output in defense compared to 4% and less by the western countries. Largely this is attributed to President Reagan’s Cold War strategy to bankrupt the Soviet Union by forcing them into an arms race they could not afford. Western governments had little faith in the Russian currency making the ruble worthless, inflation was high and climbing, clothing, shoes and other items were of poor quality, housing was barely livable and food literally was insufficient to feed the population. Other concurrent features of the era were the First Gulf War with Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary participating as part of the Storm coalition, an attempted coup by the Russian Hardliners, and Yeltsin’s assumption of leadership of the new Russian federation with Gorbachev out.
Plot/Characters: U.S. provision of an airlift of food to Russia provides the basis with addition of Iran’s attempt to acquire already constructed nuclear components with which to attack the U.S. by both subversive means and delivery of missiles. The main protagonist is Josh Hamen, a heavily decorated Navy Captain helicopter pilot, veteran of Viet Nam and Desert Storm as well as numerous other clandestine as well as other engagements. His assignment to Moscow purportedly is to oversee the delivery of food by the airlift – real job is to see what is happening to the warheads Russia still has stashed away. Shortly after his arrival, a high ranking Russian suggests that he can provide the name of the murderer of his first wife and her father, providing another and possibly conflicting aspect because he silently had vowed to his dead wife that he would avenge her. Apropos this added feature, the number of characters and their inter-involvement in the ongoing activities pertinent to the basic features of the conditions described above causes evolution of numerous other sub-plots that any further provision of detail would be a disservice to the prospective reader. Briefly though, some of the characters include: an embassy commanding officer who demands Josh inform him of all of his activities; something he cannot do because of the top level government defense officials to whom he is exclusively answerable and constantly in communication; members of Israel’s mossad; a marine ‘gunny’ and his partner; a woman with whom he had been intimately involved years before; his present wife and children; several Russians of high position in the KGB and army; his murdered wife and her father, whose graves he still visits; an FBI Muslim and several Iranian and/or associated characters.
Discussion: The story opens with former French Legionnaire, a rubber plantation manager in Laos, and his daughters being captured by Pathet Lao soldiers in 1971. Danielle, the older of the two, is wounded, hospitalized and her broken femur set by an also imprisoned French physician. He is not allowed to finish repairs so she has limited, but usable motion and in two weeks they are moved to Re-Education Camp #3. Here men and women were separated with the younger women, including 16-year-old Gabrielle, assigned to a small house far removed from the main dwellings where they were used sexually by the Russian guards led by camp commander Vladdimir Koskov whenever they wished, until they were replaced by the next shipment. Danielle, on crutches, had not been chosen. After Gabrielle was sent to rejoin her father and sister in the compound, she was discovered to be pregnant, could not accept the fact and ran into a mine field to be blown up. Three years later the two remaining family members escape and eventually conclude a harrowing trip to the Mekong and Thailand. From here chapters alternately range from 1983 Beirut where explosives are being readied for use, 1989 New York City where the reader is introduced to an Iranian spy, 1990 Moscow with a conference between the General Secretary and Minister of Finance with respect to food shortages within the country, 1991 Operation Desert Storm, the Persian Gulf and the appearance of main protagonist Josh Haman, newly promoted to Navy Captain Rank, then to Shiraz, Iran and so on to continue development of the story’s many threads . Thus, the tale is lengthy and exceedingly complex with the political, personal, military and clandestine aspects fraught with distrust, betrayal, deceit, treachery and blatant anti-Semitism all intimately conjoined. In spite of these features the author has presented characters who are intensely human in a manner with which the reader immediately can empathize.
Conclusion: The author’s extensive and intimate knowledge of his era, his subject, his terrain and specific places is most captivating as is the uncomfortable ‘feeling’ of mistrust and surveillance projected is something any visitor to Russia for any reason experienced. More especially, his ability to combine all of these features in such a ‘human’ tale is remarkable and provides a most engrossing tale. This reader’s only disappointment is the sloppy manner in which his proof-readers ‘let him down’ – not too noticeably until late in the book where one actually needs occasionally to pause a moment to decide exactly what had been said.
4* 5* Enjoyable, excellently, highly knowledgeably written -1 regrettable proofing.