Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giles Whittell's "Bridge of Spies"

Giles Whittell is currently the Washington bureau chief for the London Times. He has been based in Times bureaus all over the world, including Moscow and Los Angeles.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Bridge of Spies: A True Story of the Cold War, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Bridge of Spies a Brooklyn artist named Burt Silverman has just seen a friend on the front page of the New York Times. It's August 8, 1957, and Silverman is on his way home when he passes the news stand. He knows his friend as Emil, a fellow painter with a faint Scottish accent and a complicated past. The Times identifies him as Colonel Rudolf Abel, "the most important Soviet spy ever caught in the United States".

Silverman is stunned:
[He] rode the subway home in a daze that in a sense has yet to lift. Here was an answer to the Emil question, but it was other people's answer; an answer announced by people who didn't even know him. "The disconnect between public and private was wrenching," he says, half a lifetime later. "In fact, I still view this as a story somebody made up about my life, a chapter which is totally untrue."
It was true that Emil was a spy; untrue that his real name was Abel. He was William Fisher, for nine years the KGB's most senior undercover agent in North America. He had uncovered little and recruited no one of interest to Moscow, but as a prisoner he was magnificent. He admitted nothing but he floored his lawyer and the press with his erudition and his courtroom cool. In him, the legend of the Soviet masterspy was born.

He was exchanged five years later on a bridge outside Berlin for Gary Powers, the U2 pilot shot down in 1960 over central Russia. That shootdown changed the course of history in ten seconds flat, in ways not fully understood till now. Had Powers made it to his destination there might have been no Berlin Wall. As it was, a third man was caught on the wrong side of the wall, interrogated for five months, and released at Checkpoint Charlie into the arms of his parents as part of the same exchange. His name is Frederic Pryor, and he is still alive nearly half a century later.

Bridge of Spies is the story of how these three men came together in Berlin, and how, on the way there, one of them managed to destroy the fond hopes of the leaders of two superpowers for a new age of détente.
Read more about Bridge of Spies at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue