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From secret police files retrieved from the archives in post-Soviet Russia to the horror of Stalin's purges, Secrets and Spies unravels the complex historical forces which shaped a family's destiny.

WINNER OF THE NSW PREMIER'S LITERARY AWARD 2003 COMMUNITY RELATIONS COMMISSION AWARD SHORTLISTED NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY AWARD 2004 SHORTLISTED KIRIYAMA PRIZE 2004 SHORTLISTED TASMANIA PACIFIC BICENTENARY HISTORY PRIZE 2004 Harbin in north China was once the heart of a vibrant Russian community of diverse cultural and political origins. But by the mid-1930s, the Japanese occupation of Manchuria drove many Russians to seek refuge elsewhere. For the thousands who returned to their motherland in the Soviet Union, it was a bitter homecoming. At the height of Stalin's purges, they were arrested as Japanese spies. Some were shot, others sent to labour camp, few survived. Among them were members of the author's family. Driven by curiosity and armed with chutzpah, Mara Moustafine fronted up at the headquarters of the former KGB in post-Soviet Moscow and asked for help to discover what had happened. She got more than she bargained for. The family's secret police files, retrieved from archives at opposite ends of Russia, revealed the horror of the purges as well as startling secrets about their lives in turbulent years in China and the Soviet Union. What was fact? What was fiction? Written with sensitivity and humour, Secrets and Spies skilfully weaves personal and political, past and present to give an insider's perspective on the life of ordinary people in extraordinary times.


"I've read many family histories but none of them have the maturity and depth of this one..." - The Hon Kim Beazley, (former deputy prime minister and leader of the Labor Party)

Moustafine's gripping chronicle balances the personal impact of discovery with skilled geopolitical analysis...Secrets and Spies certainly delivers on its promise of unveiling lethal conspiracies. But it is the Darwinian struggle of ordinary people against overwhelming historical odds that grabs the attention

The Sydney Morning Herald

Secrets and Spies is a cry from the heart. Every page took me further and deeper into an experience listening to the horror stories of people who, though their souls had taken a beating and had survived Stalinism - the darkest of the dark years. Mara Moustafine uses extraordinary descriptive power to bring back to life a family she has never met. She has transformed Stalin's victims into people you can almost touch and speak with, so detailed is her portrayal of their lives, so deep her own angst at the tragedy which beset them. Secrets and Spies is a protest - indignation at the inhumanity of one of this century’s worst evils. A tribute to Moustafine and the past she has turned into a present.

Monica Attard

This extraordinary tale of travels, survivals and burdens of suspicion will fascinate readers

Tom Keneally

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    November 1, 2002

    Vintage Australia

    320 pages

    RRP $26.99

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  • EBook


    January 1, 2012

    RHA eBooks Adult

    312 pages

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