Today I am so pleased to welcome M.K. South to Joyfully Jay. M.K. has come to talk to us about Of Our Own Device. M.K. has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving a big welcome!
Guest blog by Keith W. South
Get the bragging rights: say you read the book before it was a film!
Of Our Own Device is a story written by my partner over some four years. Having witnessed the process, I wanted to show my support by helping a little with promoting it.
I’m not a big fan of marketing, to put it mildly. There’s a kaleidoscope of stuff we are pressurized to acquire by very cynical marketers, who collate us into types and believe we will behave a certain way if they throw enough advertising and social media spin at us. Ugh.
So, I am not doing that (okay, maybe suggesting it will be a film is a tad spinny). Instead, let me share with you some of the journey.
I believe a story should have a life of its own and not be influenced by the author’s celebrity status – or lack of it. As a reader, you are likely going to be curious about the writer, if nothing else, to add a little legitimacy to the book. Given that the book entails the secret services of the US and ex-USSR, I’m clearly not about to suggest anything that will result in a large black van being parked down the street in the morning! What I will say is that the author speaks fluent Russian and American (as opposed to English), having spent years in the Soviet Union. During the events described.
This story starts during 1985, the so called “Year of the Spy” – you may recall the tit-for-tat expulsions that went on during that period. Whilst a fictional story, it is interwoven meticulously with history. This is the foundation upon which Of Our Own Device is built. Where the story suggests the moon was full on certain day, or it was raining… it would have been. As you read, you will stumble into parts of the story you feel you know from news reports, effectively blurring the boundary between fact and fiction. In fact, at times it seems more déjà vu than fiction, adding massively to the story. A deal of the characters are real people, but since they are inserted into imagined events, their names have been changed. Those of you “in the know” will recognize them, I dare say. Those of you that had the need to go upstairs in the US embassy, or indeed were listening in, will doubtless recognize a good deal too.
There’s a fair amount of “man on man” sexual content in this story. As a straight man, I have to confess to having some difficulty with this initially…. but it’s legitimate. That is, it’s not used gratuitously just to appeal to a particular audience. It’s a reflection on life, and an aspect of secret service life that does go on. You have to imagine the layers of secrecy involved. This was a time when being gay was not something people advertised. We are more enlightened today. But this was a different time, and being gay in the USSR was problematical. Some things go full circle of course. It also makes for a vulnerability; the opposing side can use it… It’s historically accurate too, there have been some very high profile homosexual spies that have been turned to work for the “other side”.
Of Our Own Device is a long tale. Purposefully so and, I should add, with my encouragement. During the editing process the author was under some pressure to shorten it because “readers won’t read a book that long”. Well, I have issues with this!
Firstly, I don’t want the world’s bookshelves, virtual or otherwise, populated by prescriptive, formulaic stories. Secondly, as the reader I want to be allowed to decide for myself. I want to explore a bit. I don’t expect to research every aspect of the tale via blogs, websites and syrupy paid-for reviews, to ensure a safe bet – so that I have nothing invested in the read. Which is why I am giving away nothing here!
The story has a very particular and deliberate cadence. Spying is a very precise, slow, methodical expertise. The cadence of Of Our own Device is very carefully crafted to give this perception, and to imprint the psychological state of our protagonist upon the reader at different phases.
But this isn’t a spy novel in the classic sense. If you want car chases, the chink of a spent shell case dancing on the pavement to the accompaniment of a silenced shot – then this is not for you. If you have a need to explore, to travel, a love of history and a recognition that the destination justifies the journey, then this is for you. It’s a story of love, a story of multiple layers of deceit, a story about struggling with what’s important. The quote from Marcel Proust at the front of the book, “Love is a striking example of how little reality means to us”, is all you really need to know.
Will it be a film? Who knows, but if you want to get the bragging rights, you’ll have to get the book!
What do you do when you realize that the American Dream you’ve been working for so hard is not enough if it will be yours and yours alone? And that what you’re told to do will destroy the only true friend you’ve ever had?
Summer of 1985. Jack Smith is a rookie CIA case officer posted at the American Embassy in Moscow. Despite his gregarious nature, Jack is a lonely man: not only is he a reluctant spy, he is also gay. When he meets Eton Volkonsky, a talented nuclear physics student, Jack’s bosses instruct him to develop the Russian as a future agent. Their friendship deepens, and Jack is torn between his suspicion that Eton and friends are with the KGB and his attraction to the man. But he continues telling himself and his bosses that he is just doing his job, developing his agent. Only when he leaves Russia does Jack admit that he has been fooling himself all the while. He takes on assignments in various countries, with a hope that eventually they will get him back to Moscow.
As introspection and growing doubts about what he does for living torment Jack, the world is buffeted by a whirlwind of dramatic events – diplomatic and spy wars, the rise of AIDS, the Chernobyl catastrophe, the war in Afghanistan and the disintegration of the communist bloc.
They meet again and Jack is given a second chance. Will he make the right decision this time round?
M.K. South has worked in international finance and development for over 25 years, living in or traveling to many countries including the ones featured in this debut novel. Currently, M.K. works in Ukraine and continues globetrotting, for work and to experience the world.
“I was born a vagabond,” says M.K., “in a snow-clad little place thousands miles way from the sun-drenched city on the Black Sea my mother called home. I then lived, studied and worked in other countries, poor, aspiring and rich. I’ve experienced poverty and war, as well as peace and prosperity, and I’ve learned that you don’t fully appreciate the latter, unless you’ve known the former. Today, I’m still living in a foreign country, working in several others in the region, and traveling yet to others because… I just can’t get wanderlust out of my DNA.”
Five lucky winners will each receive an ebook copy of Of Our Own Device. To enter, follow the Rafflecopter below.
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