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How Not to Become a Spy: A memoir of love at the end of the Cold War

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Justin Lifflander dreams of becoming an intelligence officer and joining the Cold War fight against the Russians. Following internships at the State Department and the FBI, he lands a job at the US Embassy in Moscow. But Lifflander's story turns out to be less The Spy Who Loved Me and more Ferris Bueller's Day Off. He sets off for provincial Russia to live outside the gate Justin Lifflander dreams of becoming an intelligence officer and joining the Cold War fight against the Russians. Following internships at the State Department and the FBI, he lands a job at the US Embassy in Moscow. But Lifflander's story turns out to be less The Spy Who Loved Me and more Ferris Bueller's Day Off. He sets off for provincial Russia to live outside the gate of a nuclear missile factory and work as an inspector-janitor-chef on the US monitoring team. There he discovers Russians are just as friendly—and suspicious—as their American counterparts. What sinister significance could the Americans' pink lawn flamingos have? The local KGB wants to know. The Americans are managed by young female "escorts" tasked by the KGB to watch for signs of espionage. They begin to manipulate Lifflander's favorite—a pretty girl named Sofia. Against the rules and reason, Justin and Sofia become emotionally involved. Both a romantic comedy of errors and a narrative glimpse into the golden age of US-USSR relations during perestroika, Lifflander's memoir is revealed through deeply personal experience, humor, and heartache. It reminds us our enemies are never as unknowable as we think or as easy to fathom as we'd like.


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Justin Lifflander dreams of becoming an intelligence officer and joining the Cold War fight against the Russians. Following internships at the State Department and the FBI, he lands a job at the US Embassy in Moscow. But Lifflander's story turns out to be less The Spy Who Loved Me and more Ferris Bueller's Day Off. He sets off for provincial Russia to live outside the gate Justin Lifflander dreams of becoming an intelligence officer and joining the Cold War fight against the Russians. Following internships at the State Department and the FBI, he lands a job at the US Embassy in Moscow. But Lifflander's story turns out to be less The Spy Who Loved Me and more Ferris Bueller's Day Off. He sets off for provincial Russia to live outside the gate of a nuclear missile factory and work as an inspector-janitor-chef on the US monitoring team. There he discovers Russians are just as friendly—and suspicious—as their American counterparts. What sinister significance could the Americans' pink lawn flamingos have? The local KGB wants to know. The Americans are managed by young female "escorts" tasked by the KGB to watch for signs of espionage. They begin to manipulate Lifflander's favorite—a pretty girl named Sofia. Against the rules and reason, Justin and Sofia become emotionally involved. Both a romantic comedy of errors and a narrative glimpse into the golden age of US-USSR relations during perestroika, Lifflander's memoir is revealed through deeply personal experience, humor, and heartache. It reminds us our enemies are never as unknowable as we think or as easy to fathom as we'd like.

47 review for How Not to Become a Spy: A memoir of love at the end of the Cold War

  1. 5 out of 5

    Joe Christie

    A Great Story I very much enjoyed this book because of the various American and Russian citizens described in it. They are real people in every sense of the word. I also love the historical aspect as that was a very important time in the world's history. The book is well written by Justin Lifflander and I congratulate and thank him for sticking it out until it was finally published. I can tell you after reading the book, that his wife knew he would get the book published!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Schmitt

    I truly enjoyed this memoir. While the major theme over and over again demonstrates how illicit love is a pretty unnatural concept, I also found the details of late-era USSR fascinating (especially from the perspective of an expat). If you have ever lived as an expat, you will enjoy this book. I have no doubt in that. If you have ever been in love or believe in love, you will enjoy this book. If you like missiles, you will also like this book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Francy

    Really interesting read, Justin has led an amazing life and has seen a side of Russia I haven't discovered yet.

  4. 4 out of 5

    P Bright

    This was a fun read! It was a tender love story with some incredible insights into the cold war!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Derek

    There is a rich history of travel narratives about Russia that dates back at least to the Renaissance and saw something of a golden age in the U.S. in the 1950s. Thus, author Lifflander joins the likes of Truman Capote and Bob Hope (and Alessandro Guagnini) with How Not to Become a Spy. And he does them one better, since he saw Russia and stayed. And witnessed history. There was a girl involved, of course. And a little kid. It’s heady stuff. The story takes a few pages to get going, but it’s wort There is a rich history of travel narratives about Russia that dates back at least to the Renaissance and saw something of a golden age in the U.S. in the 1950s. Thus, author Lifflander joins the likes of Truman Capote and Bob Hope (and Alessandro Guagnini) with How Not to Become a Spy. And he does them one better, since he saw Russia and stayed. And witnessed history. There was a girl involved, of course. And a little kid. It’s heady stuff. The story takes a few pages to get going, but it’s worth the wait. After all, you aren’t going to hear about life as a missile inspector in the Soviet Union just anywhere. Lifflander tells it well, delivering vivid impressions and a sense of life in that distant time and place. It was largely Russian hospitality, vodka, KGB, whiskey, hijinks, brandy, and start over again, with a cigar. It is straightforward, but there is substance in it, and the author captures something that has disappeared and that is, I imagine, probably not what most readers will expect. The author is good natured to a fault. The bad guys – mainly the KGB and the KGB-like – are treated with an equanimity and tolerance that do not make for great drama. Although maybe that’s not a fault. Maybe it’s an outlook, an approach to life, and not a bad idea. He does get angry about the missiles. The resolution of the romantic drama is known from the start, of course, but that does not diminish its effect. Quite the opposite. It seems that the story of love found and lost and restored has greater impact against the background of happy-go-lucky life in Votkinsk, USSR. It’s a good story and it leaves the reader satisfied. The whole book is that way.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sheikh Tajamul

  7. 4 out of 5

    Laura Delman

  8. 4 out of 5

    Cindi Hogwood

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jimzzz

  10. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Turner

  11. 4 out of 5

    Miguel Sanchez

  12. 4 out of 5

    Steve Pestana

  13. 4 out of 5

    Deria Stevens

  14. 5 out of 5

    Megan Pendleton

  15. 5 out of 5

    Raven

  16. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Ichizli-Bartels

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sudeep Porwal

  18. 4 out of 5

    Traecy Bowen

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mia Mercado

  20. 5 out of 5

    Allure

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rick parker

  22. 5 out of 5

    Diane Calderon

  23. 4 out of 5

    Laila

  24. 4 out of 5

    Marni

  25. 5 out of 5

    Clarisa

  26. 5 out of 5

    Peggy

  27. 4 out of 5

    Katherine

  28. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Thornton

  29. 4 out of 5

    cheryl

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dylan Malzhan

  31. 5 out of 5

    Clarice

  32. 5 out of 5

    Mobina

  33. 4 out of 5

    Barbara White

  34. 5 out of 5

    Jolene

  35. 4 out of 5

    Olivia

  36. 4 out of 5

    Prabhu Bakiyaraj

  37. 5 out of 5

    Jayne Mwangi

  38. 4 out of 5

    Tracie Runnels

  39. 4 out of 5

    Ac Ravi

  40. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

  41. 5 out of 5

    Julia

  42. 4 out of 5

    Rhonda L.

  43. 5 out of 5

    Lucas O'conor

  44. 4 out of 5

    Micielle

  45. 4 out of 5

    Frederick Rotzien

  46. 5 out of 5

    Betty

  47. 5 out of 5

    Stacia Chappell

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