What’s in a book cover when it features a swimming pool?
Fiction based on fact set across Europe and Russia
9th May 2022
Edith and Kim by Charlotte Philby, fiction based on fact set across Europe and Russia.
The era of the Cold War, and the spy circle in which Kim Philby was a player, filtered into my early childhood years. He was the third man in the Cambridge Five spy ring and this story is told by his granddaughter, Charlotte, focussing on the woman who recruited him and passed him to his Soviet handler. The names still reverberate with me – Donald Maclean (1913 – 1983), Guy Burgess (1911 – 1963), Harold ‘Kim’ Philby (1912 – 1988) and Anthony Blunt (1907 – 1983). Kim Philby was a journalist who joined MI6 and came to be in charge of SIS (the anti-Soviet section) but by this point he was already a KGB agent. Really, it feels like wheels within wheels of deceit in the world of the double agent and spying, rather difficult to keep up! However, it is not really her grandfather who interests here but the little known woman who recruited him and who didn’t get the same attention as the men. A fascinating and noteworthy person, by all accounts.
The novel opens with the early years of Edith Suschitzky, who was the daughter of a bookstore owner in Vienna, which sold books that were radical and left wing. Her left wing journey had already thus started when she was a small child. She studied in London under Maria Montessori and then went on to study photography in Dessau where the influence of the Bauhaus movement dominated. She married Alex Tudor-Hart and they moved to London.
She worked for the NKVD (later to be known as the KGB), yet was largely unacknowledged. Once she was in London, she began to forge her secret career. The author includes various snippets that she discovered in the Secret Intelligence Files which evidence that she was being scrutinised.
The author just happened upon this woman, who has come to be so central in this narrative – and where fact and fiction are blended – whilst researching her grandfather. It is a fascinating story, formulated with linear progression. I listened to this as an audiobook. The narrator, on the face of it, had the era appropriate, crisp accent and could get her tongue around German (Austrian) words, but overall the narration. for me, felt like quite a dry and starchy listening experience. It would perhaps have been a richer read had I had access to the novel in written form.
Tina for the TripFiction Team
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