Dimitri Bystrolyotov could be considered the James Bond of the Soviet Union: charming
and charismatic, he had an eye for the ladies and a willingness to kill to please his superiors. However, he was a very real person who left behind a trail of broken hearts, a prison sentence, and an intriguing career to look back on.
Emil Draitser met Bystrolyotov by chance in a café in the 1970s. The retired spy told the writer amazing, sometimes dubious tales about his life, which Draitser recounted in his writings. The two developed a friendship, leading Draitser to create Stalin's Romeo Spy, a fascinating biography of a memorable but not always trustworthy character.
Bystrolyotov spent his early years raised in Tsarist Russia by an activist mother,
followed by a stint as a soldier in WWI which led to his embrace of Socialism and a spy career. Draitser also reveals Bystroloyotov’s relationships with women, particularly his first wife, Milena,
an unstable woman who both loved and was repulsed by him. Their fights and
constant one-upmanship are almost equal to Bystroloyotov’s escapades with enemy spies.
Draitser artfully captures his subject's spy career simply by removing the romance found in fictional spy tales. Many of Bystrololyotov’s missions consisted of following suspicious characters, seducing women to give him information, and living in fear and paranoia that he would get caught by enemies or
betrayed by his own people.
Bystroloyotov’s spy career ended in 1938 with his arrest and sentencing to the gulag. The
narrative grows tedious during his imprisonment, assistance to other prisoners and courtship of a woman through the bars. But Stalin's Romeo Spy, like its protagonist, is filled with charm, danger, and a lot of dubiousness that even Draitser doesn’t believe (there are many passages where Draitser writes something like “I don’t know how accurate is his claim, but…”)
Regardless, it is worth reading about a real-life James Bond trapped in his own web of seduction and deceit.