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October 8, 2020 7:29 AM   Subscribe

Looking for SYMPATHETIC fiction OR nonfiction accounts of people who were recruited and served as spies for a Communist country against capitalist empire. Book, movie, TV, podcast, all OK. (Yes, I've seen "The Americans.")

I'm (re)reading "Tinker Tailor" and, while I think it's an excellent critique of a particular, time-bounded manifestation of heteropatriarchy, its central "betrayer" is a cipher. We never really find out how he was recruited or, more deeply, why it appealed to him (and continued to appeal to him). I suspect it's the author's empire-centered limitations at work there, although otherwise I love the book.

I'd like to see the story told from the "betrayer's" point of view: a real (or well-drawn) living and breathing human being who is recruited by and spies for a Communist country. ANY Communist country, past or present.

Fiction or nonfiction will both work in any form.
posted by Sheydem-tants to Society & Culture (14 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Kim Philby wrote memoirs, I believe? I don't know if they go into any depth about the question, I suspect they'd be rather self-serving but they're at least something. I'm definitely going to watch this question.
posted by Alensin at 7:44 AM on October 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin’s Master Agent by Owen Matthews to be quite good, and mostly sympathetic (although he did most of his spying in Japan during WW2, so maybe not completely matching "a Communist country against capitalist empire").

Trinity: The Treachery and Pursuit of the Most Dangerous Spy in History by Frank Close about Klaus Fuchs was also good, although I don't remember how much details about his recruitment and motivation there was in the book.
posted by rpn at 7:51 AM on October 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Deutschland just wrapped up! Deutschland 83, Deutschland 86, Deutschland 89. Very enjoyable (though I haven’t finished the last season yet). Young East German border guard gets recruited by the HVA and goes into West Germany around the time of the Able Archer exercises. Thing escalate from there; the first season definitely hits your criteria though.
posted by supercres at 7:58 AM on October 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

As Alensin noted, My Silent War: The Autobiography of a Spy, by Kim Philby.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 8:00 AM on October 8, 2020

I've just started A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre, which is also about Kim Philby. I can't say yet how sympathetic he treats his subject, but I've read some of his other spy books, and in general he is pretty clear about spies and their motivations, which are sometimes tied into idealism, but often not. So it's a possibility.
posted by sillysally at 8:20 AM on October 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

I really love The Untouchable by John Banville, which is loosely based on the Cambridge Five.
posted by thivaia at 8:46 AM on October 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre, which is also about Kim Philby.

I found this book very compelling. So much of the stuff about Philby seems to get bogged down in almost too much information whereas MacIntyre really knows how to tell a story.

In the fiction realm, I recently read Alan Furst's Dark Star and found it both intimate and ultimately epic. Great stuff. Here's a review from Eugene Aubrey Stratton, who himself seems to have been in the espionage game.

The book, especially the first half, read to me like a primer in espionage, and is decided the most realistic of spy novels that I've read. Szara was a case officer for the Soviets just as I was a case officer for CIA, and in my readings during my early years with CIA, I became acquainted with much of the terminology used in this book, terminology which has since become such public knowledge that it no longer seems strange, but it was strange at one time; such as wet affairs (murder), Rote Kapelle (a famous Soviet spy network), and OT Pads (a cipher method).
posted by philip-random at 10:16 AM on October 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

Have you read The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen? It won a ton of awards and deserved them all. There's a sequel coming out soonish as well.
posted by mogget at 10:22 AM on October 8, 2020 [5 favorites]

Further along the Kim Philby lines, the BBC did a miniseries called Cambridge Spies that I remember as sympathetic, with a great cast. I don’t know much about the topic, though, so I can’t speak to its accuracy.
posted by ceramicspaniel at 12:08 PM on October 8, 2020

You might be interested in Lauren Wilkerson's American Spy. The main character is not a double agent, but she does explore the moral grey areas of a her intersecting identities as young black woman working for the CIA in Africa in the 1980s.
posted by minervous at 12:17 PM on October 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

Graham Greene's novel The Human Factor is about an British intelligence officer serving as a Russian agent for personal reasons. He's presented sympathetically.
posted by jackbishop at 1:04 PM on October 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

This isn't exactly what you're describing, but A Woman in Berlin is an anonymous memoir written by a German woman describing her experience during the occupation of Berlin by the Red Army in 1945. It's quite good and quite compelling as it describes how many women survived this time.
posted by bluedaisy at 1:42 PM on October 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

Out of the Night

This guy.

Read it free.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 7:50 PM on October 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

It's more LeCarre, but The Perfect Spy feels like it would be a better fit than Tinker, Tailor for this particular question.
posted by saladin at 4:35 AM on October 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

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