Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Train to Potevka

During a weekend trip, and a long drive, I caught the tail end of an interview with Mike Ramsdell about his book A Train to Potevka.

According to the interview, Ramsdell was an American spy in the Soviet Union during the Cold War and decided to tell his story. He discovered, though, that he couldn’t get his manuscript past the CIA censors so self-published A Train to Potevka as a work of fiction.

Several months later, I saw the book for sale at Costco and couldn’t resist the opportunity to read it. Ramsdell’s story sounded absolutely intriguing.

However, a good book requires more than just a good story. A Train to Potevka has potential. It has the plot, the adventure, and the intrigue. What it doesn’t have is a seasoned storyteller. There is a reason this book is self-published.

I must also confess there were times when I felt very alarmed for Ramsdell and for the CIA for recruiting him. He makes several elementary mistakes that absolutely shocked me.

First, he leaves his belongings unattended on a Soviet train and seems bewildered that someone stole them. Really?

Second, he gives a Soviet man a large bill to buy him bread and is surprised when the man absconds with the money. Again, really? I would imagine that anyone with an ounce of commonsense—let alone a CIA agent—would know better than to do either.

I admire Ramsdell's willingness to expose his flaws. I admire his ambition for writing the book. However, as a work of literature, A Train to Potevka leaves much to be desired.


Bryan D. Catherman said...

I was surprised by some of these things too. I also found the story arch a little lumpy.

However, after having him sign books for our store, I learned that Ramsdell has signed a major motion picture deal. I'll be interested to see how Hollywood changes the story so it fits into the typical spy-thriller model.

Blogger said...

Fascinating information. I can only imagine the film would cover just the action-packed sections of the book. When I hear things like this, I have to kick myself that I haven't written a book yet. Apparently, anyone can do it and be successful.

Stevie G. said...

An interesting read…I just hope most of our clandestine agents are more capable than Mr. Ramsdell appears to be. I’m sure Hollywood’s production of “Potevka” will be typical “Bourne” type tripe, with lots of super-human martial stuff, and Ramsdell will be cast as a victim of the blundering evil CIA, even though the book never makes it clear whether he is an agent for the CIA, State Department, or military. It is clear however, even from his own story, that Ramsdell’s problems were exacerbated by his limited skills as a clandestine operative. Regardless…I’m still greatly appreciative of Mr. Ramsdell’s patriotic service to the country.