Harry Gold


Eschewing the confines of traditional biography and inverting the glamour of espionage, acclaimed biographer Millicent Dillon blends fact and fiction to chronicle the human drama of Harry Gold, the American chemist who became a Soviet spy.

In casting Gold's story as a novel, Dillon creates a gripping narrative from the true events of political life in America from the thirties through the McCarthy era, from Gold's recruitment to his training in tradecraft to his role in Julius ...

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Eschewing the confines of traditional biography and inverting the glamour of espionage, acclaimed biographer Millicent Dillon blends fact and fiction to chronicle the human drama of Harry Gold, the American chemist who became a Soviet spy.

In casting Gold's story as a novel, Dillon creates a gripping narrative from the true events of political life in America from the thirties through the McCarthy era, from Gold's recruitment to his training in tradecraft to his role in Julius Rosenberg's and Klaus Fuchs's atomic espionage at Los Alamos. The result is a novel with the psychological depth of Graham Greene's The Third Man, the taut pacing of All the President' s Men, and the moral poignancy of Phillip Roth's I Married A Communist.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
American chemist Harry Gold spied for the Soviets during the '30s and '40s; the FBI nabbed him in 1950, by which time Gold had already helped famous "atom spy" Klaus Fuchs steal secrets about the A-bomb. Biographer (You Are Not I: A Portrait of Paul Bowles) and novelist (The Dance of the Mothers) Dillon fuses the two genres here, producing an unstable amalgam of reportage and fiction. Her sympathetic, attentive narrator follows Gold from New York circa 1935, to New Mexico and Fuchs, to Gold's arrest and trial in Philadelphia. Sometimes Dillon chooses a fairly wooden style, one meant to give an assurance that she is "telling the true story of a life." She can stop to pick up bushels of facts, skip emotionally important moments, or try far too hard to explain: "Yes, Harry nodded, though he felt terrible at the thought of not seeing Dave, for whose sake he had agreed to become involved [with the Party] in the first place." But elsewhere, Dillon's prose enters into Gold's consciousness to create pockets of great beauty, brilliant portrayals of the inner life of a damaged, lonely man. She has a novelist's feel for the telling detail--e.g., the scampering of a leashed dog as Harry returns from one of his spy missions. Like Lee Harvey Oswald in Don DeLillo's Libra--an obvious model for Dillon's volume--Gold himself finally seems a classic schlemiel: unglamorous, nervous and manipulable, extending his favors haplessly to a series of spymasters, and motivated more by anxiety, friendship and vague morality than by worked-out ideology or self-interest. If Dillon's bio-fictional hybrid fails to achieve the strange unity of DeLillo's, it nonetheless provides a compassionate, informative view of a sad, unusual life. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Elena Lappin
Harry Gold is a fascinating and original book. It answers few questions, and asks many good ones.
The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781615604517
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/28/2002
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 5.38 (w) x 8.08 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Millicent Dillon is the author of You Are Not I: A Portrait of Paul Bowles, A Little Original Sin: The Life and Work of Jane Bowles, and After Egypt: Isadora Duncan and Mary Cassat and three works of fiction: The Dance of the Mothers, The One in the Back is Medea, and Baby Perpetua and Other Stories. She is the editor of The Viking Portable Paul and Jane Bowles.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Whenever I think of Harry—which I do less and less often these days—I see him on a subway train from Queens to Manhattan, approaching the mid-point under the East River.

    I see the lights blinking, and in the dimness he seems to be in the process of switching. Before the mid-point, he is in one life. After the mid-point, in another. And in the moment in between, there is a strange sound, a hum, a mild roaring, like the reversal of a tide, a change of pressure in the air, in the ears.

At Thirty-Fourth Street, Penn Station, he exits from the train, carrying his little black bag. He plods up and down stairways and through tunnels until he finally emerges in the great central hall. Taking his place on the long line at the ticket booth, he waits patiently. He requests a one-way ticket to Philadelphia. When his train is announced, he goes to the gate and gets on line. At last an official appears. When his turn comes, he shows the official his ticket and is allowed through. He climbs aboard the train with some effort, as the steps are high for his short legs. He walks through the aisle crowded with soldiers sitting on packs, with civilians sitting on suitcases. He walks through that car into the next car, and then the next, almost to the end of the train. Just as the signal is given for the departure, he swings down from the high steps onto the platform, and walks into the waiting darkness.

    Hiding in the shadow of a pillar, he listens to the sound of the engine overcoming momentum. He sees the acceleration of the figures in the windows, passing him by, fasterand faster. He waits until he sees the lights of the end car blinking in the distance. Then he makes his way to the gate. The official is gone. He slips under the chain.

In the great central hall he takes his place on line at the ticket booth. It is the same booth he has been to before. He knows he could come back and back again and still not be noticed. He buys a ticket to Boston. He goes to the gate. He gets on the train to Boston.

Now that the switch has been thrown, now that Harry's daily life is in abeyance, he doesn't feel as if something has been taken away from him, but rather that everything has been restored to its rightful place.

    He has watched the others fill up the seats in the car, and in the process has made sure that no one has followed him. Even though he knows that no one sees him, he is a stickler about being cautious. It is a little like taking out double insurance. He has examined each passenger in turn, noting how they chose their seat, whether they looked around first, if they averted their eyes, if they appeared like someone trying not to be noticed. He has paid particular attention to how each passenger stowed his luggage. There are, he is certain, many things to be learned from luggage. Reassured, he has settled into his journey to Boston.

    Through the dirty window glass he sees another train on the next track overtaking his train. The two trains have synchronized in time. Passengers are reading on the other train, passengers are falling asleep, passengers are talking, just as on this one. The inhabitants of the two trains are mirror images of each other, leading parallel lives in adjacent traveling rooms. Suddenly, the other train pulls ahead. In an instant the faces, the bodies, are gone. Vanished, just as Klaus has vanished.

When he gets to Boston, he hurries out with the other passengers, leaves the station, walks three blocks, and doubles back. It is not yet time to make his visit. In the waiting room he has coffee and a doughnut and then another doughnut. He purchases a Boston paper. He glances briefly at the news, before turning to the sports pages. It looks as though it's going to be a St. Louis series, the Cardinals against the Browns. He follows the Phillies, of course, no matter that much of the time they are in the cellar. They are his hometown team. He also follows the Yankees, hoping they will lose. He hates the Yankees, who won the Series last year. They are like bullies to him.

    Again he checks his watch. It is not an action of impatience, only of precision. It would never occur to him to think "I could be doing something else instead of this," or "I could be somewhere else instead of here." Each moment is simply in transition to the next, a part of a necessary sequence.

    After he has read the comics, he gets up and goes over to the wire trash can. He is always careful not to leave remnants of his presence out in the world. He has trained himself to do this through long years of practice. As he is about to drop the paper into the can, he sees, half-hidden by other papers and candy wrappers, the cover of a Life magazine. He makes an exchange, his paper for the Life. Then he goes back and seats himself on the bench where he has been waiting.

    He doesn't know why he took the Life. He doesn't even like Life. The editors and writers are always exaggerating in one way or another, presenting what they call the "larger picture." And indeed, once he begins to leaf through the magazine, there comes to him a familiar rumble in his stomach, a tremor of dissatisfaction. Nothing in his life measures up to what is pictured in these pages.

    Take this ad showing a woman standing before a white cottage with blue trim, surrounded by a white picket fence. Inside the picket fence, on a plot of grass edged with pink and yellow and orange flowers, are a dog and a young child playing. The woman is smiling. The child is smiling. Even the dog is smiling. "Women want homes like this," the ad says, "not just a house but a home where you have time to relax and enjoy life."

    Not mine, the thought comes. No dog, no white picket fence. In the face of such absolute certainty as to what women want out of life, the home of Louisa and Doris and Dan has been deemed inadequate. He closes the Life. He checks his watch. He gets up and leaves the waiting room and boards the bus, still clutching the Life in his hand.

    He has been given orders to appear at the house of Klaus's sister, Lottie. There he is to assert himself. He, who always disappears so easily into the woodwork of daily life, must make his presence known boldly, must demand, must insist upon attention. Where is Klaus? Why did he suddenly drop out of touch without notice? He has not shown up at their scheduled meeting, nor did he appear at their alternate meeting. Y has said that he is concerned that Klaus is having second thoughts. It must be made clear to Klaus, Y has emphasized, that there are to be no second thoughts.

    When he gets off the bus, he searches for house number 363. He walks past it; he goes around the block; he comes to it again. It occurs to him that this street is a little like the street in Philadelphia where he might have gone, the twin of this journey, the one not taken. Here, like there, each house has its own tiny front yard. Pots with plants, the bicycle of a child, a child of six or seven. (Just the age of Doris and Dan.) He walks up the path to 363, mounts the two steps, and is on the landing. He has chosen the appropriate moment, not too early, not too late for his mission.

    As he waits for an answer to his ring, he anticipates that he will see in the sister the shining red-blond hair, the intense blue eyes of the brother. But it is a woman of another description entirely who opens the door. She has brown curly hair, shoulder length. Her eyes are a deep, dark brown.

    "He's not here, I'm sorry," she responds to his inquiry in her accented English. Everything about her is soft, her voice, the way she stands, so receptive, waiting.

    "Are you expecting him?"

    "No." She hesitates. "He usually comes once a month, around this time, but I doubt that he's coming this month."

    "He might come, though."

    "No, I don't think so."

    "He might call you."

    "It's possible, but I don't think so."

    "Just in case, I'll come in and wait a little bit, if you don't mind." He sees the startled look on her face as he brushes past her. It is not like him to push past a person, especially such a soft person, to enter into her home uninvited. Yet this is what he has done.

    From her eyes he can tell that she cannot decide if she should be afraid. He may have pushed his way in, but anyone looking at him could never judge him as threatening. But then it is not Lottie that he is supposed to threaten. Does she know about Klaus? No, it is not possible. He would never endanger his sister by letting her know what he is doing.

    "I'm almost sure he's not going to call." Her deep-set eyes are even darker than before, so dark they could pull you right in, if you were inclined to be pulled in. "He said something about having to go out west—"

    "So then I will have waited for nothing. I'll take the chance, with your permission," he says and smiles a soft reassuring smile. "I'll just wait here quietly. I assure you I won't be a bother."

    Soon he is in the living room, sitting on the couch, and she is serving him coffee. She looks distracted, even nervous, but clearly she is not in a panic. Perhaps she is thinking, In this country such things happen. A man comes to your door and pushes his way in for news of your brother. Maybe this is the way people behave in America. After all, she has not lived here that long; she could think that way.

    "I know Klaus is very anxious to see me," Harry offers. "Our lab has just found the solution to a technical problem that would be of great interest to him. I understood that he might be here today." He does not elaborate on how he came to this understanding.

    "But as I told you, I'm sure he's gone out west somewhere—"

    At the sound of a child crying, she jumps up and hurries out. He can hear her comforting the child in the next room, saying over and over again in her soft voice, "Poor baby." Minutes pass and the crying has subsided. He hears her footsteps in the hallway, but then almost at once the screaming starts up again.

    Shortly, she reappears with the child in her arms, flushed and whimpering. She offers the child a bottle but he pushes it away. She lifts him to her shoulder and pats him on the back, but he breaks out in a loud cry. She gets up and walks around, trying to soothe him. She sits and offers him a bottle. Again he refuses it, stretching out his legs stiffly, screaming even louder. Harry is unnerved by the sound, and at the same time oddly irritated. To him the crying has an element in it of being forced, of being willed.

    Frantically, Lottie offers the bottle and this time the child accepts it. Sucking on it, he lolls upon her lap, his legs rolled out in a kind of abandon. She is looking down at him with a tender smile, as if he were a prince, Harry thinks, and she a servant, grateful to accede to his every whim. He cannot rid himself of the thought that the child has used the crying to demand attention. And what if that is so? he rebukes himself. What concern is it of yours?

    He is about to ask whether she has any idea where out west Klaus might have gone, but Lottie puts her forefinger to her lips, picks the child up and carries him out, her hips swaying softly. Harry gets up and goes to the window, pulls back the white lace curtain, and looks out into the street. No, there is no one standing there, watching.

    He looks around the room. On the mantel are several photos. One is of Klaus and Lottie. It must have been taken some years ago. He looks so young, untouched, as if he had no sense of what his life would become. She looks even younger and softer. But the long curly hair is the same, the tender smile is the same.

    "I hope he can sleep for a little while," Lottie says as she returns. "He's been waking up at night, and he's just over-tired." She asks Harry if he has children. Two, he says, twins, age six.

    "That must have been hard when they were little. What did you do when they both cried at the same time?"

    He has not thought of this before. "It was difficult," he says.

    She nods and they sit in silence. "I think if he hasn't called by now, he's certainly not going to, so—"

    There is a knock on the door, and she jumps nervously. At a second knock, she gets up and hurries into the entryway. Harry rises slowly. He never likes to move fast, especially not now when he is preparing to confront Klaus. But it is not Klaus. It is another man. Watching her from the living room, as she stands close to this man, almost touching, Harry knows it is not her husband either. He has been told that she and her husband are separated, that the husband is in California. But he would have known in any case that it was not her husband, by the way she stammers and then whispers, by the way she smiles and then looks down.

    She leads the man, who is tall and dark, into the living room, and introduces him as Norman Sly. Harry gives his name as Raymond, the name Klaus knows him by. Lottie offers them coffee; the two men decline. The three sit in silence, a silence that Harry refuses to break. He sees Sly looking at her, she trying not to look at him.

    "Cool today," Norman Sly says.

    "Yes," she says.

    "It's supposed to get warmer."

    "I hope it does."

    Harry can hear the longing in her voice, a longing to be alone with this man. What does she see in him? That he's tall, dark, and sly. But what do I give a damn if he is sly or not sly? I have come here for one thing only, to reestablish contact with Klaus.

    Lottie looks at her watch. "If he hasn't called now, I'm sure he won't be calling."

    "I'll wait a little longer, just in case." Just in case she is lying.

    Harry can feel the pull between her and the man, palpable as a magnet pulling upon iron filings. She jumps up and says, "I should go in and check on the baby." After she leaves, Norman Sly crosses his legs; he shakes his dangling foot. Then he gets up and follows her. Harry can hear them whispering in the adjacent room.

    He picks up the Life magazine and opens it to a photo essay, "Life Goes Back to Penn Station" by Alfred Eisenstadt. The photos are of couples, soldiers and their girls, sailors and their girls, kissing goodbye in front of the gates leading to the trains. I have been at those very gates, Harry says to himself.

    Leafing through the pages, he comes again to the ad showing the woman in the white cottage with the white picket fence and the dog and the child. "Women want homes like this, not just a house but a home where you have time to relax and enjoy life. And in these days of tired bodies and disturbed minds, it's good for one to think now and then about the new kind of house you will have after victory..."

    As Lottie and Norman Sly come back into the room, Harry gets up slowly. He has seen on her face an expression of need so naked, it is like a cry. "I can't wait any longer. Please see that Klaus gets this," he says, handing her an envelope. It has been given to him, if all else failed.

    "I'll be glad to give it to him, when I see him, but I have no idea when I'll see him."

    He is outside on the pathway to the street, when he hears her call after him. "Your magazine. You forgot your Life." He sees, by the expression in her eyes, that she is already in the process of forgetting him.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2000

    Terrifically readable portrait of a key historical figure

    <p> In the early 1950s, an episode as divisive as any that followed in the turbulent 60s and 70s took place. The younger generation is largely unaware of it, and it's not taught in schools, probably out of some fear that, unlike the freeing of the slaves or the American Revolution, there's no way to cover it without acknowledging its ambiguous morality. <p> About five years after the atomic bombing of Japan that closed out World War II, the full force of America's collective dread of Communism finally found a local place to land. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were charged with delivering the secret of the bomb's design to the Soviet Union. They were tried in federal court and executed in 1953 amid worldwide furor that ranged from New York to the Vatican to the mobbed streets of Pairs. <p> What history there is of this shattering event consists largely of a severely limited body of demonstrable fact, an ocean of debate and speculation, and the public record of the trial itself. A great deal has been written about why the Rosenbergs did what they did but, surprisingly, there is virtually nothing known about what drove one man, Harry Gold, to not only act as a courier between U.S. spies and their Soviet controllers, but to become the government's chief witness against those very same spies. <p> By all accounts, Gold was a meek, enormously generous man whose only truly notable characteristic seemed to be his desire to please others. He was not politically savvy, he evinced no strong convictions, and why he would agree to become immersed in something as nefarious as handing a superweapon over to the Russians was a mystery. <p> In HARRY GOLD, noted biographer Millicent Dillon makes a bold, speculative stab at ferreting out what might have driven this very ordinary man to his extraordinary deeds. Exploiting the fictional license of the novel, Dillon is able to strip away the traditional biographer's obligation to separate documented fact from interpolated conjecture and instead present us with a cohesive, eminently plausible psychological portrait of a man who, to net it out somewhat unfairly, was so anxious not to give offense that he let himself be influenced by anyone with a stronger personality than his own, which was essentially everybody. <p> HARRY GOLD gets off to a somewhat slow start that might not immediately grab readers who don't already come to this book curious about the subject, but soon picks up emotional steam as events implode in on Gold until he can no longer stop them, assuming he'd even want to. Although her research was meticulous, Dillon deliberately avoids overburdening us with too many details that have been well-documented elsewhere, and instead concentrates on Gold himself. By the time he voluntarily confesses all to the FBI, the author doesn't need to hit us over the head explaining why: she's done such a good job of bringing us inside this man's head, it would almost be a shock if he didn't eventually break down and spill everything. <p> Aside from the occasional sentence that spins its metaphor for a few more words than necessary, HARRY GOLD is written with a sure hand and is a terrifically revealing, highly readable examination of a little-known but critical figure in our history.

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