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The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union Hardcover – October 8, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
Unlike previous accounts of the man who assassinated Kennedy, which focus on whether he acted alone, journalist Savodnik here delivers a genuine biography that emphasizes the nearly three years Oswald spent in the Soviet Union and attempts to address the oft-neglected question of why he wanted to kill the President. A mildly rebellious youth whose mother never provided a stable home, Oswald joined the Marines at age 17—his service was undistinguished and men in his squadron considered him odd because he was already expressing pro-communist views. Soon after discharge, he traveled to Moscow where he requested Soviet citizenship; suspicious authorities dithered for months before assigning him a factory job in Minsk. Oswald made friends and enjoyed success with women who considered him exotic, but he became bored and dissatisfied. His marriage to Marina Prosakoba briefly improved matters, though he soon resumed efforts to return home, passing the last year and a half of his life growing increasingly irascible. Savodnik&'s impressive research—which includes many Russian sources—does not turn up any revelations, but it paints an intriguing portrait of a restless, tormented soul who accomplished little in a short life until he turned himself into an infamous historical figure. Agent: Ted Weinstein, Ted Weinstein Literary Management. (Oct.)
A lot of people, Savodnik points out, have spent a lot of time speculating about whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he shot and killed President John F. Kennedy. Very little time, on the other hand, has been spent in examining Oswald as a man. Savodnik begins with the assumption, for which he later offers plenty of evidence, that Oswald acted alone, and he devotes his time to exploring the reasons why this 24-year-old assassinated an American president. His focus is on Oswald’s years in the Soviet Union—his reasons for going there, his disillusionment (Russia, it turned out, wasn’t a workers’ paradise), and his state of mind when he returned to the U.S. in 1962. Savodnik busts a few myths along the way; for example, pointing out that the notion that the Russians would use Oswald as a Manchurian Candidate–style programmed assassin is absurd. But his real interest lies in presenting a picture of Lee Harvey Oswald the man, not merely the murderer. A very welcome addition to the voluminous literature about the Kennedy assassination. --David Pitt
Top customer reviews
I love the description of Oswald's life in Minsk - Savodnik speaks to its artificiality and as a "Potemkin village." As the author notes, there's not a single interaction that takes place in Oswald's life that hasn't been somehow planned by one of the country's security organs. My thought turned to 'The Truman Show.' What Seahaven was to Truman Burbank, Minsk became to Lee Harvey Oswald.
What distinguishes Savodnik's book are his first-person interviews -- most notably with Titovets and the beguiling Ella German (Tablet magazine asks "Could a Jewish Beauty Have Saved Kennedy by Marrying Lee Harvey Oswald in Minsk?") -- and his expert analysis, noting for example that Oswald's dim view of history doomed his time in the USSR. Oswald went to find a workers' paradise, but Soviet residents by then had been left with a hollowed-out shell of that vision, brutally transformed by its years under Stalin.
Journalist Peter Savodnik comprehensively documents Oswald's time in the USSR based on impressive original research and interviews with those who knew Oswald in Minsk; deep knowledge of the places in the Soviet Union where Oswald lived; and review of the existing public information on Oswald, from the Warren Commission and other government reports to the memoirs of Oswald's Soviet acquaintances.
Refreshingly, "The Interloper" goes beyond the typical conspiracy-oriented discussions of Oswald as "the lone gunman" (or not) and examines the disturbed and unrooted psyche that decided to kill President Kennedy. Savodnik convincingly builds the thesis that Oswald's assassination of President Kennedy was the culmination of a lifetime of "interloping," referring to Oswald's existence as an unmoored loner from birth.
As Savodnik shows, Oswald sought refuge in the Soviet Union to escape a chaotic, unanchored life in the US - only to fail to find the home he wanted in the USSR and return to the US more disappointed in himself and unhinged from society than ever before. Understanding Oswald's time in the Soviet Union is thus key to understanding his motives in killing President Kennedy - and "The Interloper" is the first attempt to create a full account of this time.
Savodnik's research is thorough, entertainingly taking up questions like the amount of grime expected to be under the fingernails of Oswald's factory co-workers in the Soviet Republic of Belarus - and what Oswald's co-workers thought about the American's clean fingernails. Throughout Savodnik leverages Oswald's extensive diaries to overlay the details of Oswald's daily life and interpersonal relationships in the USSR with his changing emotional and psychological state.
At the same time "The Interloper" contains compelling and highly readable social and political overviews of the two most important countries of the second half of the 20th century: America and the Soviet Union.
Savodnik builds a detailed picture of the Soviet Union - poorly understood by Americans today - as Oswald would have seen it: from the shabbiness of the Russian countryside when entering by train from prosperous Finland, to the informant "tour guides" that greeted foreigners in Moscow, to the growing bourgeois consciousness of Soviet citizens in the Khruschev era, to, most importantly, the Truman Show life the KGB built for Oswald in Minsk.
Oswald found in Minsk a Soviet citizenry who, in contrast to Oswald's communist revolutionary zeal, are seeking material comfort after years of political predation. Savodnik shows why Oswald failed to find the sense of belonging he wanted in the USSR: Oswald was an outsider to Minsk residents bound by a common history forged through war, Soviet deprivation, and the postwar effort of rebuilding a destroyed city. Rejected in Minsk, Oswald returns to the only place he could hope to fit into but which he scorned - America.
In its account of Oswald's final months after returning to Texas up to and including the assassination, "The Interloper" offers intriguing conclusions about the significance of Kennedy and his death. Savodnik suggests that Oswald's existential out-of-place-ness was representative of a disillusionment with postwar America prominent in the 1950s subculture but which largely fell by the wayside during the heady days of the Kennedy presidency.
Would exposure to that new national mood during his 2+ years in a Soviet radio factory have changed Oswald? While the answer seems a likely no, Savodnik suggests that Oswald, left behind by the new societal optimism, killed a president he poorly understood. The country found a confidence and sense of community during the brief Kennedy presidency that Oswald desired but could never have - and which US popular culture and politics have strived to re-create for the past 50 years.
The story is riveting, not just for the revelation of new facts about Oswald's life, but also because Savodnik is simply a terrific writer. His research is detailed but he does not bog down in the mundane in order to bolster his credibility. He is more interested in telling the story, and the book is a real page-turner. This book makes Norman Mailer's Oswald bio seem like a drunk's fever dream--all waving arms and red faced, but ultimately just fiction. Savodnik's book is the real deal. Oliver Stone has got to be feeling pretty silly right about now.
Most recent customer reviews
This book is an attempt to drag the reader into an argument about Oswald's character and ignores a lot of JFK assassination evidence.Read more