Russian memoir sparks book club discussion

Over spring break, Hattiesburg’s War and Society Roundtable book club met March 11 to discuss “Spy Handler: Memoir of a KGB Officer” by Victor Cherkashin. KGB was the main security agency for the Soviet Union from 1954-1991.

Each month the group discusses a new book, with this year’s theme being “spies and lies.” The discussion was lead by Brian LaPierre, a Russian historian and associate professor of history at The University of Southern Mississippi.

LaPierre talked about the significance of a KGB memoir such as “Spy Handler” which gives an alternative view that might challenge our understanding of what Soviet Russia was like. Using that information, we can gain some enlightenment about the current conflict in Ukraine.

“Stalin still has a (remarkably) good reputation among a large slice of Soviet society,” LaPierre said. “Stalin is also credited with restoring Russia’s great power status, and Russian people have always seen their country as one of the great states in the global order.”

“Nostalgic attitudes towards the Stalin era are still very prevalent and Putin in a sense plays off of that nostalgia as well,” he said.

LaPierre commented that many citizens of Crimea in Ukraine, a former Soviet territory, carry two passports in their pockets and pledge to advocate an alliance with Russia. This is a fact that the West seems to overlook when considering Russia’s current occupation of Crimea.

According to Sean Farrell, assistant director of the Hattiesburg Public Library, the group has been meeting for nearly a decade as a collaborative effort with the Department of History at Southern Miss to reach out to the public.
“We have worked with the history department over the years on lots and lots of events and maybe 10 years ago the Center for War and Society was trying to make its resources known to people outside the academic community, outside Southern Miss, so they partnered with us, and we decided that a book club was the best way to do it,” Farrell said.

Farrell said there are at least six other book clubs that meet at the Hattiesburg Public Library including a rock and roll book club, four adult fiction book clubs and a teen book club.

Allison Abra, a USM history professor and two-year member of the War and Society Roundtable, explained that the group had recently received a small grant from the Mississippi Humanities Council to help fund the purchase of the monthly books for checkout at the library.

Next month the group will discuss “Inside the Cuban Revolution: Fidel Castro and the Urban Underground” by Julia Sweig. The discussion will be led by USM professor Matthew Casey.
For more information visit or join the group’s Facebook page The Dale Center for the Study of War and Society – Southern Miss.