Sunday, September 16, 2018

Book Review: Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century

Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century
Over the past two years at least, ever since we had the American presidential elections, we have been continually hearing about the Russians' covert activities. How far it is true or false is still being investigated, and we may not know that for sure for some time.

In this context, when I was surfing Amazon for a book to read, I stumbled on this; and the title stopped me in my tracks. I read the blurb, and in no time I bought the book.

This book by Sergei Kostin and Eric Raynaud is the English translation of their Adieu Farewell. It's been translated by Catherine Cauvin-Higgins.

The story truly justifies the title. A tale of a man's academic brilliance, excellence in undercover operations, alcohol, women and passionate love. His name: Vladimir Vetrov.

The book is about his life, how he joined the KGB, the then Soviet secret service, how he got frustrated and disillusioned with his country's ideology under Leonid Brezhnev, and how he betrayed his nation by leaking to France all the scientific and technical details his country had gathered about NATO.

His code name was Farewell, and all the information he leaked was called the Farewell Dossier. In 1981, when France elected a socialist Francois Mitterrand as President. It raised the hackles of the West, especially the US and its President Ronald Reagan. But all that vanished when Mitterrand passed on to Reagan the Farewell Dossier.

The dossier contained lots of information regarding who were spying for the USSR and where. Based on it many diplomats were expelled, leading to rising tensions between the NATO and the USSR.

It is said that Vetrov's actions and the steps that the NATO took against the USSR, effectively put an end to the scientific and technological research that the USSR was undertaking, and that in turn led to the weakening of Soviet political establishment giving Reagan the edge in bringing the Iron Curtain down.

The book is also about Vetrov as a person: his personality, his strengths and weaknesses. His personal life is a parallel plot in the book: alcoholism, marriage, son and love affairs. Though the Soviets lost the spy plot to Vetrov, he too lost out in the process.

The book is very well researched, contains lots of information about Vetrov's life, his work, the Soviet system etc. But it is not a very fast-paced book. There are too many details, and too much of analyses, that might put off readers who are looking for an edge-of-the-seat thriller.

Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century by Sergei Kostin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

View all my reviews


  1. This kind of book I always love to read. I will certainly buy and read this book. Thanks for the excellent review.

  2. I like to read biographical books like these. I just wish at least 50% of what is written in them is true!

    Destination Infinity

  3. Hi Pradeep - this does sound very interesting ... it's a world I do not understand yet enjoy learning about. Thanks for checking this out for us - cheers Hilary

  4. Fur sure, this sounds to be an interesting book,stimulating suspense about what is going to be next as you turn the page.

  5. There is a dictum in Malayalam which says 'the fence itself eats the crop'.I think this autobiography is an example of that. The protector of a Nation becomes spy of his own Nation is grave indeed. Useful review,Pradeep.