Why did I pick Russia?

When my novel Undercover was released last summer, people asked why I wanted to write about a Russian spy. To those very young today, the threat of Russia seems distant and unbelievable. It probably is, today. To people my age who grew up in my part of the world, the shadow of big brother in the east will always linger.

I haven't been to Russia, at least not yet. When I grew up, the cold war raged and Sweden rested in the shade of the Soviet Union, with Finland as a small buffer between us. News on TV showed women wrapped in layers of dark clothing, queuing for hours for a loaf of bread. There were surely other sides of life in the Soviet Union as well, but these were the only images that reached me.

In 1981, we had a Soviet submarine allegedly making a navigation error. It was a navigation error alright; they went too close to the shore and were stuck. We were overwhelmed. The nation stared at images of a gigantic foreign object - nuclear sub - that spent time sneaking around spying on us.

I was nine, and my imagination ran rampant. Who were the people on the sub? Did they like their lives? Were they happy?

A few years later, when I was 13, the innovation of cable TV reached my city. All of a sudden, our TV set filled with images from other countries. There was one channel from the Soviet Union, in Russian, and everything on it seemed brown.

It wasn't black and white, and it wasn't quite color; it was brown and white, like seeing through a sepia filter. I watched for hours, without understanding even one word. There were a lot of people marching in long lines, and movies showing people frolicking in the grass, smiling just a bit too much.

As you can imagine, I grew up with a fascination bordering on fear. I wanted to write stories about Russia and Russian spies when I was a teenager, but mom said no. She claimed it was too dangerous. It probably wasn't, but her imagination was as wild as mine, and in her mind the threat was real.

By the time I finally got around to writing my spy story, the world had changed. The Soviet Union is no more, and even if the country isn't exactly the west, it's nothing like in the 1970's. I'm still super curious, and I still haven't been there.

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