Coggin discovered after eight years of marriage that her husband was a spy - when he was arrested by the FBI. This is the true story of what happened to her and her children as she fled to start a new life in Ireland.'
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There won't be many stranger books published this year than The Spy's Wife. Janet Coggin was an ordinary middle-class girl growing up in Devon in the 1950s when she was swept off her feet by Dieter Gerhardt, a good-looking South African naval officer. He was everything she wasn't--sophisticated and worldly-wise--and within a comparatively short period of time they got married, had three children and went to live in South Africa. So far, so normal. Except after eight years of marriage, Dieter takes her out for a walk, tells her that he's a top KGB spy and tries to recruit her with the bizarre sales-pitch-- "You'll be a good courier as you love foreign travel." Unsurprisingly she declines, whereupon he says they will have to separate as Moscow have given him orders to have a spy-wife. So they have a tearful farewell and off she goes to Ireland with the kiddies where she spends the next 20 years under constant KGB surveillance. Most marriages have their secrets, but being a KGB spy takes some beating, so it's hard to understand how Coggin failed to realise that something was not quite right in her relationship. It wasn't as if her husband was particularly discreet even. On one occasion she caught him bursting out of the airing cupboard where he had been developing a microfilm and on another he threatened to kill her if she ever crept up on him again from behind.
Coggin explains her refusal to confront her husband over his behaviour as the natural by- product of the fact that naval officers often kept odd hours and acted bizarrely. This is at best a partial explanation. She was clearly very much a 1950s woman, someone who felt women were there as an adjunct to men and that it would have been disloyal to challenge him. But more than this, she must have had a need to believe that everything was hunky-dory--a psychological denial, in fact--that enabled her to disregard the evidence in front of her.
It is the absence of emotion that is ultimately the most disturbing element of this book. Coggin was lied to from day one and had hers and her children's life wrecked by this man and yet she claims never to have felt angry or bitter about the experience. Indeed, she writes throughout with a strange calm, saying "why get angry about things you can't change." But since when did the emotions respond to rational suggestion? Similarly, even though the book is trailed as a true memoir, Coggin writes in the third person, with her name changed to Lilian and Dieter's to Carl. It is as though she needs to create an impersonality, a distance, between herself and her subject matter because she could not bear what she might find if she allowed herself to get too close. Given the subject matter, one can understand her hesitance, but one can't help feeling it would have been a better book if she had allowed the floodgates to open. But never mind. It's still well worth a read anyway, if only to get you thinking of what you might be turning a blind eye to at home. --John Crace
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Book Description Constable and Robinson, 1999. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0094794901
Book Description Constable and Robinson, 1999. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # P110094794901