The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Unionby Peter Savodnik
Lee Harvey Oswald's assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 remains one of the most horrifying and hotly debated crimes in American history. Just as perplexing as the assassination is the assassin himself; the 24-year-old Oswald's hazy background and motivationsand his subsequent murder at the hands of Jack Rubymake him an intriguing yet frustratingly enigmatic figure. Because Oswald briefly defected to the Soviet Union, some historians allege he was a Soviet agent. But as Peter Savodnik shows in The Interloper, Oswald's time in the U.S.S.R. reveals a stranger, more chilling story.
Oswald ventured to Russia at the age of 19, after a failed stint in the U.S. Marine Corps and a childhood spent shuffling from address to address with his unstable, needy mother. Like many of his generation, Oswald struggled for a sense of belonging in postwar American society, which could be materialistic, atomized, and alienating. The Soviet Union, with its promise of collectivism and camaraderie, seemed to offer an alternative. While traveling in Europe, Oswald slipped across the Soviet border, soon settling in Minsk where he worked at a radio and television factory. But Oswald quickly became just as disillusioned with his adopted country as he had been with the United States. He spoke very little Russian, had difficulty adapting to the culture of his new home, and found few trustworthy friends; indeed most, it became clear, were informing on him to the KGB. After nearly three years, Oswald returned to America feeling utterly defeated and more alone than everand as Savodnik shows, he began to look for an outlet for his frustration and rage.
Drawing on groundbreaking research, including interviews with Oswald's friends and acquaintances in Russia and the United States, The Interloper brilliantly evokes the shattered psyche not just of Oswald himself, but also of the era he so tragically defined.
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.)
Editor's Choice, New York Times Book Review
“An incisive study of a pivotal sojourn.”
New York Times Book Review
“[A] penetrating study of Oswald's pivotal sojourn in the Soviet Union.”
“An exemplary biography of Lee Harvey Oswald.... A finely drawn picture.... Mr. Savodnik knows how to bring to life the dull grey world of the Soviet provinces. With a knack for characterisation, he turns his subject into a real person: unattractive, unfortunate and often violent.... Obsessives will doubtless quibble with Mr. Savodnik's calm analysis. For others, the messy, contradictory and ultimately tragic story he tells will ring true.”
“A deep probe into the sketchy backstory of the triggerman.”
Most investigators of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy have worked to tie Lee Harvey Oswald to physical evidence or to suspicious relationships. In The Interloper, Peter Savodnik does something simpler: He explains Oswald's motive. After all this time, hasn't that been the most vexatious question?
“Savodnik busts a few myths along the way; for example, pointing out that the notion that the Russians would use Oswald as a Manchurian Candidatestyle 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.”
“Recommended for all who remain fascinated by Oswald, the Kennedy assassination, Cold War narratives, or infamous criminals.”
Harvey Klehr, co-author of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America
“A riveting account of a troubled loner's embrace of communism as an answer to his psychological problems. Savodnik further discredits the conspiracy theorists who have long posited an elaborate plot behind the Kennedy assassination, and reminds us yet again how often history is changed by one deranged man.”
Richard Pipes, Professor of History, Emeritus, Harvard University
“The Interloper is a meticulously researched account of the three years spent in the Soviet Union by Lee Oswald, a semi-literate failure who could find a home neither in his native America nor in the USSR. It explains a great deal about the psyche of the man who robbed us of John F. Kennedy.”
“The accumulation of quotidian detail in The Interloper will startle even hard-core assassination buffs. The rendering of Oswald as a real man, a fathomable character with grandiose thoughts and primal urges, favorite books and private hurts, a tragic childhood and a diffident personality, is Peter Savodnik's great accomplishment."
Dallas Morning News
“The most original and interesting book to appear in this season of commemoration Savodnik's re-creation of Oswald's time in Russia is brilliant.”
“The best new book on the assassination.”
“A much-needed account of Lee Harvey Oswald Savodnik's book is good enough (and it is very good) to allow the reader sometimes to draw different conclusions from those of the writer.”
“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.... Savodnik's impressive research...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.”
Savodnik, a journalist who has reported from Russia, peels back the layers of conspiracy chatter surrounding Lee Harvey Oswald and investigates the man himself by focusing on his time in the Soviet Union (1959–62). Savodnik's contention is that Oswald's sojourn there was his last best hope for finding stability in his erratic life. When he defected to Russia at 19 after leaving the marines, he wanted to take part in a Marxist revolution, but the Soviets—who, as Savodnik points out, wanted their own stability after decades of war and Stalinism—never granted Oswald citizenship and kept a close eye on him. The book effectively details how Oswald, sent to a factory job in Minsk, and overseen by the KGB, after a spell of enjoying popularity as an American boyfriend to local women, became alienated, married Marina Prusakova in a mutual act of desperation, and returned with her to the States. This was emblematic of his patterns of unhappiness and drastic impulse. In the States he further destabilized, which led to tragic consequences. VERDICT This work complements Gerald Posner's Case Closed, which also sees Oswald as the lone—and loner—assassin, as well as Priscilla Johnson McMillan's Marina and Lee, which takes a more personal and Marina-focused approach. Recommended for all who remain fascinated by Oswald, the Kennedy assassination, Cold War narratives, or infamous criminals. [Marina and Lee has been reissued with a new introduction by the author.—Ed.]—Jacob Sherman, Texas A&M Univ. Lib., San Antonio
A journalist's sure-footed probing into Lee Harvey Oswald's three years in Russia finds an unsettling time of retrenchment and rage. Why did Oswald shoot President John F. Kennedy? That, writes journalist Savodnik, remains the key question--not whether the gunman had any accomplices. The author believes Oswald acted alone and was essentially fulfilling an inescapable channeling of estrangement that found expression, after his failed Russian experiment, in sharpshooting and assassination. Largely peripatetic and homeless, never fitting in anywhere, thanks to a dysfunctional home life, absent dad and erratic mother, Oswald eventually gravitated toward the Marines in 1956 in order to escape his mother. The regimen did not suit him, since essentially he was unschooled and undisciplined, and his vague yearnings toward Marxism were naïve and unformed. Still, he managed to force the hand of the Soviet Union when he tried to defect, then attempted suicide to garner sympathy for his cause; incredibly, Russia allowed him to stay and even gave him a job and apartment in Minsk, thus endowing this inconsequential transient with something like heroic status. Even women found the outsider attractive, something he never had experienced before, although most of his co-workers at the Experimental Department in the Minsk Radio Factory kept their distance from the rather too-clean, meek former American. Savodnik gamely looks at the various friendships Oswald made, surely all of them monitored by the KGB, as his resolve to stay began to crumble after a year and some months. He recognized that he would not find a home in Russia as he had hoped--another in a long series of "interloping" failures. Oswald's dissatisfaction would fatally seize on something, somewhere, soon. An oddly intimate foray into the life of this most banal specimen of evil.
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Meet the Author
Peter Savodnik's writing has appeared in Harper's, Time, the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, and many other publications. Formerly based in Moscow, he has traveled and reported extensively in the former Soviet Union. Savodnik holds a master's from the University of Chicago and lives in Washington, DC.
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