An Impeccable Spy, by Owen Matthews

"An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin's Master Agent," by Owen Matthews, (Bloomsbury Publishing: New York), $30.00 hardback.

Richard Sorge is a name few Americans know. Yet he had more influence on the outcome of World War II than perhaps any spy in the history of that grand conflict.

Why his remarkable, successful career is virtually a mystery to America is only one reason modern readers will value this work. Owen Matthews, an Oxford-educated British historian, author and journalist, offers a thoroughly researched, incredibly surprising story of Sorge, a Soviet spy. Matthews places Sorge understandably in the context of his age, and clarifies many historical mysteries in so doing. His use of newly declassified documents is a hallmark of this achievement.

Sorge, like many Germans of his generation, survived as a wounded veteran of the Great War to End All Wars, World War I. Son of a successful oil man, whose travels took him throughout the Russian Caucasus, he returned after combat a bitter, angry young man. His dreams of a successful future, for he was well-educated, seemed virtually nonexistent. His world had been betrayed by the great imperial war.

In time he was drawn to admiration of the recently successful socialist revolution in Soviet Russia. Shortly thereafter, he came to the attention of a Soviet recruiter. Then Sorge became a spy.

Sorge's personality lent itself to such a profession. An unlimited extrovert, he traveled the world making friends of business associates, writers, officials and women. Few believed he could be other than he claimed, a well-heeled, broadly conversant and agreeable German journalist and fixer. What he really was, was a conscious spy for the Soviet Union of Marshall Joseph Stalin.

We follow as Sorge's political education matches his ability to help communism. Sent by the Communist International to agitate around the world, he eventually went with a Soviet delegation of clandestine spies to Shanghai. There he influenced budding communist organizations, disrupted Kuomintang nationalists, and helped his cause of revolution spread. We observe how he managed to avoid the endless doctrinaire conflicts in early communist planning, thereby setting himself up as a completely undetected spy in the cosmopolitan cities of 1930s Asia.

His greatest success came in Tokyo, where he appeared a good German of the New World Order, while cultivating Japanese officials and betraying their secrets to Stalin. His achievements in alerting Moscow to Adolf Hitler's plans brought his skills to the fore in the run-up to the German invasion of the Soviet Union. His greatest secret mission was to alert Stalin that the Japanese would attack south into Indochina, Java and the Philippines, not Soviet eastern Siberia. Thus Stalin moved his armies westward, to stop the Nazi drive on Moscow, hold the line, and wear down the Wehrmacht with millions of fresh Siberian troops.

Woven throughout are tales of Sorge's many affairs, his benighted marriages, his schemes and associates, both wise and foolish. We discover he was a thoughtful, educated man whose abilities were driven by a passionate belief in the socialist dream. How he fulfilled his life's work, ending in a strange denouement, is what makes this book worthwhile. Well-written and insightful, using recently declassified records, we discover the spy who fought in Asia for a Soviet master, and helped deal Hitler a catastrophic defeat.


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