Reviewed by Carol Hoyer for Reader Views (11/17)
Tom Mooradian’s book, “The Repatriate: Love, Basketball, and the KGB,” is one of the most well written, remarkable books I have read. From the very first page, the author captures your attention, providing one of the most startling looks at living under Soviet control, while believing in his hope for his parent's homeland and helping to rebuild war-torn Armenia.
In 1947, Tom eagerly looked forward to his journey to Soviet Armenia in hopes of learning more about his parent’s home, getting a good education, and returning to the United States. With his father’s blessing, his mother’s adamant “no,” and his brother's statement, “the only way you will return home is in a pine box,” Tom joins the first ship of Armenian repatriates who believe all will be fine and they all will be safe. Typical of most young adults, they want to get out from under parental control, see something outside their hometown, and do something worthwhile.
In his account, the author makes a compelling statement, “I was born American, raised American, and will die an American, but in 1947 I became a Soviet.” I could feel his enthusiasm for trying something new, and the shock he felt when he realized that he was lied to and had all his rights as an American taken away. Not only would the U.S. Consulate not help him return to the United States, they also told him to, “suck it up buttercup.” This philosophy reminded me so much of government red tape and how often repatriates are used to look good on paper, yet become the lowest class of citizens. Through his detailed writing, and his thoughts and questions to other repatriates, one can feel Tom’s fear and concerns about how he would survive on a daily basis.
With the loss of freedom comes constant surveillance of all aspects of one’s life. Regarding his love life or lack of it, it was quite interesting to see how Tom was watched relentlessly for any offending behavior. To even talk to someone about his concerns he had to be on high alert to ensure his “friends” were just that. I found it distressingly funny that the only way he gained favor and kept from being sent to the gulag was his ability to play and coach basketball.
The meticulous telling of his life under Soviet control from 1947-1960 is an amazing extraordinary glimpse into what can only be speculated upon unless you have actually lived it. “The Repatriate: Love, Basketball, and the KGB” by Tom Mooradian should be required reading in all high schools. It is a straightforward, gripping, factual portrayal of the time period and highly recommended reading.