Stalin’s Romeo Spy: The Remarkable Rise and Fall of the KGB\'s Most Daring Operative

Sailor, painter, doctor, lawyer, polyglot, and writer, Dmitri Bystrolyotov (1901–75) led a life that might seem far-fetched for a spy novel, yet here the truth is stranger than fiction. The result of a thirty-five-year journey that started with a private meeting between the author and Bystrolyotov in 1973 Moscow and continued through the author’s subsequent research in international archives, Stalin’s Romeo Spy: The Remarkable Rise and Fall of the KGB’s Most Daring Operative pieces together a life lived in the shadows of the twentieth century’s biggest events. One of the “Great Illegals,” a team of outstanding Soviet spies operating in Western countries between the world wars, Bystrolyotov was the response to Sidney Reilly, the British prototype for James Bond. A dashing man, his modus operandi was the seduction of women— among them a French embassy employee, a German countess, the wife of a British official, and a Gestapo officer—which enabled Stalin to look into diplomatic pouches of many European countries. Risking his life, Bystrolyotov also stole military secrets from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. A man of extraordinary physical courage, he twice crossed the Sahara Desert and the jungles of Congo. But his success as a spy didn’t save him from Stalin’s purges, at the height of which he was arrested and tortured until he falsely confessed to selling out to the enemy. Sentenced to twenty years of hard labor in the Gulag, Bystrolyotov risked more severe punishment by documenting the regime’s crimes against humanity in unpublished and suppressed memoirs that rival those of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The first full-length biography in any language, at once a real-life spy thriller, a drama of desire, and a prison memoir, Stalin’s Romeo Spy is the true account of a flawed yet extraordinary man.

"Bystrolyotov, as Draitser tells it, is one of the most sensational in the pantheon of desperate lives lived by Stalin's illegals. By turns routine, thrilling, conventional, extraordinary, disquieting, disgusting, pathetic, and inspiring, [the spy's life story] stirs emotions of both revulsion and respect, even as it adds a new and instructive chapter to a bleak and terrifying period of history. In this case, the hero chose his biographer well: no one but Draitser could have written this book." --Gary Kern, author of A Death in Washington: Walter G. Krivitsky and the Stalin Terror and The Kravchenko Case: One Man'ss War on Stalin, from the foreword

"An amazing true-life saga . . . Books on intelligence rarely allow the reader the breadth and depth that this biography has, and even more rarely do we get a look into the motivation and thinking behind the acts as we do here. Bystrolyotov's life is extraordinary, literally another world from the one we inhabit and a fascinating read." --Suzi Weissman, author of Victor Serge: The Course Is Set on Hope

"Fascinating . . . Illuminates the inner workings of the Soviet spy network in Europe and the United States in the 1930s. Adventurers who lived for the thrill and excitement of spying, they believed that they worked for the glorious future of the whole of mankind, while in fact serving a criminal country with a Mafia-like oligarchy that included Stalin and his close associates. No wonder that eventually they were betrayed by the very regime they worked for . . . The book is extremely timely now when in Russia, ruled by a small group of former security service officers, Bystrolyotov is proclaimed one of the greatest heroes of the country's foreign intelligence."--Vadim J. Birstein, author of The Perversion of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science