Harbin in north China was once the heart of a vibrant Russian community of diverse cultural and political origins. But by the mid-1930s, the Japanese occupation of Manchuria drove many Russians to seek refuge elsewhere. For the thousands who returned to their motherland in the Soviet Union, it was a bitter homecoming. At the height of Stalin's purges, they were arrested as Japanese spies. Some were shot, others sent to labour camp, few survived. Among them were members of the author's family. Driven by curiosity and armed with churzpah, Mara Moustafine fronted up at the headquarters of the former KGB in post Soviet Moscow and asked for help to discover what had happened. She got more than she bargained for. The family's secret police files, retrieved from archives at opposite ends of Russia, revealed the horror of the purges as well as startling secrets about their lives in turbulent years in China and the Soviet Union. What was fact? What was fiction? Written with sensitivity and humour, Secrets and Spies skilfully weaves personal and political, past and present to give an insider's perspective on the life of ordinary people in extraordinary times.
Winner of NSW Premier's Literary Awards: Community Relations Commission Award 2003.
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