Author: Gideon D. Asche
Kindle version (illustrated) read on Onyx Boox T68
The preview blurb for “Jinnik” by Gideon Asche caught my eye on a discussion thread on Goodreads.
“Set in a time and place remembered only by those who survived and a row of upside down shot glasses behind an old bar; this exhilarating and previously untold tale of the Cold War is relayed to us by the only Operator to ever return from hell and drink from his own overturned glass.”
I marked the book as to be read, just to indicate an interest and as a follow-up note to myself, and before I could do more about it I received an offer for a free copy of the ebook, with no expectations of a review attached.
I would however like to review the almost 900 e-pages long book as just the very first lines, describing captivity illustrate how to create the perfect hook to make you want to keep on reading this book:
“Eleven Bricks high,
Eight and a half bricks long,
Four and a half bricks wide,
This is my world.”
Called; “My World” it describes the perspective you have in captivity.
Jinnik, is the story of a cell of intelligence operatives in the 1980’s engaged in HUMINT – obtaining intelligence via direct observation and through contacts, and is told in great detail which explains the length of the book.
According to the afterword, everything happened, the characters existed, and some of it has been fictionalized. Which is fact and which is fiction is quite impossible to tell, and that is meant entirely as a compliment. The book is very convincing, it certainly reads like a memoir and according to the author, is 99% fact. Obfuscation and omissions are due to the need to keep Depart. of State and other parties satisfied.
The activities of the group of operatives led by the author consists mainly in crossing various borders into east block countries from the West with items such as clothes, money, printing presses and ink yes, this was before the Internet, – and later supplying underground organisations with weapons.
Occasionally they also retrieved product, i.e. intelligence to the West, and moved people across the borders. There’s even a sanction, i.e. an assassination done with the panache of a Bond.
The descriptions of recruitment, training and tradecraft ring true according to what I have learned from other sources such as descriptions of real espionage, intelligence or counter intelligence operations, and in fiction by authors such as Le Carré, Cummins, Adam Hall et al.
Mentioning Hall; the descriptions of captivity carry a powerful sense of Hall’s Quiller. Again, this is intended as a huge compliment.
The author’s observations regarding the bleakness, drearyness and depressive atmosphere in the communist occupied countires made me remember how my own Uncle once talked about how he as a Sales Engineer went into the DDR for a
single day, and how everything was in total disrepair and the general feel “drüben”, was one of distrust of strangers and of people beyond hope.
In my opinion Jinnik is a unique, and a very fascinating read. I read it in great chunks, even past normal bedtime; a good sign with me as it means I’m interested and want to devour the story.
The book is an engrossing and enjoyable read, with wonderful phrases appearing like pearls on a string, for instance “the only sound was the wind passing through their gaping mouths”.
Reading it, you get a feeling for the honesty and the character of the narrator who tells the story not like a novelist or author, but with a solid storyteller’s capability for captivating and keeping your attention.
At times I was a bit confused about the narrator’s background and capabilities. This is probably because I’m not intimately familiar with the roles of U.S. military personnel.
Sometimes it took a bit long for me to appreciate the rationale behind certain measures, and I’m still not sure I’ve figured out why you would want to switch number plates between two identical cars behind enemy lines. The benefit
apparently being that one car is “declared” transit and as such would not be searched, while the other car was on a DDR visa and consequently would be searched. Thus it would be safer to switch the plates instead of moving the cargo between the two cars.
Also I felt that the cars having to be repainted before each trip across the border would be a very risky proposition and would only hold up to a very cursory inspection: In order not to be discovered one would have to strip the car more or less completely to ensure that Engine bay, the booth, pillars, and other interior steel surfaces would be the same colour as the rest of the car. What would happen if the border guards discovered another panel colour beneath
At the same time other vehicles were so unique, and apparently routinely checked by regular border personnel, that “friendly” relations between vehicle driver and border personnel were developing.
Different borders, different measures and different approaches.
I also wonder about how, near the end of the book the sudden and unexpected disappearance of two members of the group does not lead to some kind of debriefing or moratorium. We are very quickly told that eventually the operation was set up and then that’s that.
But then, my observations probably just shows you that I’m a worrier and best suited for the quiet life, perhaps a position as risk manager, while others thrive on taking huge risks.
And it also shows you that the world does not alway work like a book keeper’s or analysts spreadsheet. Plenty of things in the real world are not perfect but rather snafu and fubar.
As the author says; “it was simply how we dealt with it. Thick skin and accepting it as a cost of what we did. The moment you started to look at it any other way, you lost your edge; if you ever began to care about living or
dying it was time to get out of the game.”
In the department for nit-picking and minor niggles; as others have mentioned there are a few typos and another proof reading would do no harm, for example there’s mention of a car; an Opal Senator which really should be an Opel, and
finally, the americanism of omitting the “of” as in “couple things” instead of “couple of things” did not sit terribly well with this reader!
In summing up, I really liked this book on the whole and enjoyed every page of it, laughed, cried a bit, ranted a bit and was a bit sad that there was no more, once the last page had been turned.
I definitely recommended this to anyone with an interest in intelligence operations in Europe during the last decade of the Cold War.