In the early months of 1947, eighteen-year-old Tom Mooradian had everything - Hollywood good looks, high academic ranking in his senior class at Southwestern High School, and recognition by the three Detroit daily newspapers as being one of the finest basketball talents in the Public School League and in the state. Before the end of that year, however, he would find himself with hundreds of other Soviet citizens, standing in long unruly lines hoping to purchase a kilo of black, damp, saw-grain filled bread. He would be fighting the daily fight for survival in the Soviet Union.
But bread was the least of his worries; he was not allowed to travel or utter one word against the state in public or private conversation. Mooradian had lost his freedom. It was not a dream, but a nightmare, that he and one-hundred-fifty other American Armenians willingly, but unknowingly, walked into when they signed up to repatriate to Armenia. Shortly after their arrival in Erevan, the capital of Soviet Armenia, the NKVD, the Soviet Secret Police, arrested Mooradian as he boarded a plane for Moscow. Beaten at the airport, Mooradian was conveyed to NKVD headquarters. His crime: he had authored and agreed to present a petition that he and three other repatriates had signed to the US Ambassador, pleading for help to return to the United States.
Mooradian's basketball prowess captured the hearts of the Soviet people and probably saved his life. Miraculously surviving 13 years behind the Iron Curtain, he had the opportunity to see what no foreign correspondent, no western journalist, no diplomat was permitted to see: the Soviet Union as the Soviets lived.
Reviewed by Divine Zape for Readers' Favorite
The Repatriate: Love, Basketball, and the KGB by Tom Mooradian is an autobiography that brilliantly captures what it felt like to live behind the Iron Curtain. Set in 1947 - 1960, this autobiography follows the life of Tom Mooradian, a seventeen-year-old boy, a basketball prodigy, and an honor student with high academic ranking in the senior class in Southwestern High School, as he joins hundreds of other Soviet citizens, fighting for survival in the Soviet Union and in a place that is supposed to be home.
He had joined hundreds of American Armenians to travel to the Soviet bloc with the hopes of living a dream, but upon arrival, he discovered that he had been deprived of his freedom. He couldn’t criticize the state either in public or in private. He was arrested and tortured at the airport in Soviet Armenia by the police just because he had signed a petition to the US Ambassador requesting help to travel back to the US. How did he survive his 13 years behind the Iron Curtain and what did it all have to do with basketball?
Tom Mooradian’s memoir is a heartbreaking story with powerful historical and cultural references, a book that could be read as history lived in the heart of a young Armenian. The setting bears powerful witness to the Cold War and the sufferings of millions of people living behind this part of the Iron Curtain. It is a fascinating story that is so beautifully told. Once you start reading, it becomes impossible to put it down. I was captured by the author's powerful voice, seduced by the excellent writing, and blown away by the entire narrative and the author’s grim experiences and his love for the suffering people. The Repatriate: Love, Basketball, and the KGB
will let you see behind the Iron Curtain.