In a quiet English village in 1942, an elegant housewife emerged from her cottage to go on her usual bike ride. A devoted wife and mother-of-three, the woman known to her neighbours as Mrs Burton seemed to epitomise rural British domesticity.
Who would have thought that Mrs Burton was actually Ursula Kuczynski, a colonel in the Soviet Red Army and a spy code-named “Sonya”?
Ben Macintyre’s fascinating biography of this extraordinary woman traces her life from street protests in the Weimer Republic to espionage-training in Moscow through to her life in quiet Oxfordshire – where, as Jake Kerridge summarises in his review for The Daily Telegraph, “having constructed a radio transmitter in her privy, [she] passed on various secrets, notably invaluable material provided by the nuclear physicist Klaus Fuchs.”
This enabled Stalin to build a Soviet atomic bomb. Whilst Agent Sonya changed the course of 20th-century history, Macintyre doesn’t neglect her personal life, as lover, wife and mother and so creates an exhilarating multi-dimensional portrait of a life more extraordinary than any novelist might imagine.
Hardback, Penguin Books, £25 – signed copies available.
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