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Watkins, John.

Edited with an Introduction by Dean Beeby and William Kaplan. Toronto, James Lorimer, 1987. 172pp, cloth, $22.95, ISBN 1-55028-028-7. CIP

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by Thomas F. Chambers

Volume 16 Number 3
1988 May

John Watkins was Canadian charge d'affaires in Moscow from September 1948 to May 1951. He later returned to Moscow and was Canada's ambassador to Russia between March 1954 and April 1956. Moscow Dispatches represents a selection of his despatches to Ottawa.

These were years of great significance for Russia. Dictator Joseph Stalin died in 1953 and the surviving leadership heaved a sigh of relief. The Canadian government was naturally suspicious of Russia at this time. The Gouzenko affair, in which a Soviet cypher clerk had defected to Canada and exposed a Canadian spy ring, had happened as recently as 1945-46. All news from Russia was therefore devoured with great interest. It was done so with even greater interest when that someone was a skilled and observant diplomat fluent in Russian.

Much of Watkins’ despatches are of a pretty mundane sort. Beeby and Kaplan, the editors of this book, must have had quite a task collecting even this small number. The Western diplomatic corps was so starved for information about the Soviet leadership that trivial details such as the colour of a politburo member's new suit were apparently read with interest. That an ambassador's time should be taken up with such nonsense makes one wonder why Canada needed a representative in Moscow in the first place.

The only part of this book I found interesting was Watkins' report of a trip he made to Soviet Central Asia in September and October 1954. This part of the country is steeped in history, and on his journey Watkins saw many unusual things and fascinating people.

The introductory remarks by the editors are helpful. They provide a background to the cold war, which puts Watkins' remarks in perspective.

Thomas F. Chambers, Canadore College of Applied Arts, North Bay, Ont.
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