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Tom Maremaa’s daring, provocative novel begins on the day President Reagan is shot when Dylan Rose, a young rebel without a cause, undergoes a major change in life. He must grow up and choose to follow the events of the Cold War, leading him in time to the Reykjavik Summit between Reagan and Gorbachev in October, 1986. As a young journalist, he comes of age, and begins a quest that takes him to all corners of the globe.
History pivots on the promise of the Summit while the Cold War leaders struggle to reach an agreement on limiting their staggering and deadly arsenals of nuclear weapons, with the world teetering on the brink of Armaggedon. Astonishingly, the agreement hinges on a single word. Is that even possible?
But there’s more to come, like Dylan’s chance encounter with his former teacher of Russian from Berkeley, a woman of remarkable intellect, a brash and brilliant woman, on the eve of the Summit. And her secret fling, which he later discovers, with a chivalrous Soviet nuclear scientist whose loyalty to his Kremlin masters is destined to come under fire.
That’s just the beginning of this rich and engaging family chronicle, with roots in Nabokov, Pamuk and Tolstoy, as recounted by the journalist — a novel that spans more than four decades of geopolitical turmoil and strife.
Reykjavik: A Novel takes us beyond the events of the Summit in Iceland, as we witness the fall of the Berlin Wall and eventual dissolution of the Soviet empire. History unravels when the Soviet Union comes apart, unleashing a fusillade of dark, violent forces. Oligarchs appear and take control. The teacher of Russian finds her life turned upside down in the years that follow, transformed forever. Intrigue and espionage play out — with devastating consequences — on the post-Cold War stage between America and the new Russian Federation.
In the end, as readers, we come away from this richly detailed novel having experienced the world of love and geopolitics in ways we haven’t seen or felt before.
Story Elements of Reykjavik, a Novel
Q. How did this novel come about? What made you write it? That’s what I’m typically asked. So here’s the best series of answers I can provide:
A. The seeds were planted a long time ago, drawing on my memories of Reykjavik and the Summit. What was the backstory? What truly happened behind the scenes?
Before too long, the seeds broke through the fertile garden of memory and started to grow into what the novel was to become. And then, seemingly on their own, the characters in the narrative began to haunt my dreams.
One night Nathalie appeared, then Andrei, both professionals in their respective fields, a teacher of literature and a nuclear scientist, pulled together by the forces of nature, or history, or some combination, their lives intersecting at precisely the moment in time when it mattered the most, when each had to give up something of themselves and change direction in life.
Nathalie Campbell was every woman I had ever met and known, Andrei Heilemann was my neighbor down the street, the colleague at work, the man whom I knew, not as a brilliant scientist, but simply a fellow I could depend on in a crisis, a good man, perhaps even a great man.
Maybe that sounds too perfect, too well-defined. But for me, novels take on a life all their own if the characters won’t let go, and in this case, Nathalie and Andrei did just that.
The story of their personal lives seemed important and needed to be filled in. Dylan Rose, the probing, inquisitive journalist appeared to tell their story, the story of a family caught in the crosswinds of huge geopolitical changes. And of course, there had to be the resentment of the younger brother in the old Soviet Union, whose anger at the fall of empire could not be underestimated or denied, the embodiment of all that happened when the empire fell apart, and a new class of oligarchs emerged. He would not rest. He would go after his older brother with a vengeance.
That’s how the elements of this novel came together.
An Excerpt from the Novel:
Rain falling in sheets.
Bitter cold biting my lungs, like raven’s claws. I am jacked into the matrix of this Summit, waiting for President Reagan’s plane to arrive and for General Secretary Gorbachev to step off the Soviet ship docked in the harbor. Expectations are running high. Perhaps some kind of agreement on nuclear weapons will be reached. Don’t hold your breath, I am told by my editor who has assigned me to cover the event. Do something behind the scenes. Tell me the true story. As if I can, as if it belongs to me and no one else. Then again, maybe it does.
The President left Andrews Air Force Base on Air Force On at 9:45 this morning, Eastern time, and is expected to arrive at Keflavick airport at 7:05 at night, Icelandic time. I am told he will be greeted by members of the government in Iceland and stay in the house of the US ambassador for the duration of the Summit. The US delegation, as many as two hundred and sixty people, led by Secretary Shultz, will meet and discuss the agenda with the President, ensuring he is prepared with any last-minute items for his talks with Gorbachev next morning toward noon.
I am holed up in a downtown hotel with legions of other journalists here for the Summit. The chatter among us is buoyant, hopeful, yet deeply skeptical if anything will come of the talks, aside from a thrashing out of issues that are under the President’s and the General Secretary’s respective skins. Reagan hates nuclear weapons, almost as much as he hates communism, although with Gorbachev’s recent policy shifts and the introduction of glasnost (defined as openness, though with a Russian twist, no doubt) and perestroika (another concept that translates as some kind of restructuring or re-arrangement of the existing order with the implication that all things holding the Soviet empire together will become freer, looser, cooler, one hopes) and the simultaneous buildup of US military forces putting pressure on the Soviet economy, Reagan may see an opening, or if this is the matrix, many openings. Portals to the future, better relations, an end to the dreaded arms race.
The leaders will meet at Höfdi House, the former French embassy, an abode with a dark past. I am curious what it looks like and if I can get inside. The other journalists at the hotel are probably curious too and might tell me about it but I want to see for myself. I hail a cab. And do not have to wait long before a driver stops and picks me up. He speaks perfect English, though slightly accented in the way Scandinavians speak with that low, deep tonality coming from the gut. He welcomes me to this fabled land of his, where he can trace his ancestors back hundreds, if not a thousand years. He asks if I remember the chess match of the century, the battle between the irascible Bobby Fischer and his dour Russian counterpart, Boris Spassky. The match, like this summit, had geopolitical implications, even consequences (he speaks the word consequences with affect, as if it has great meaning to him). I tell him I was too young to remember, though I have studied the moves made by each player in the match: I am only twenty-four, a foreign correspondent for a New York paper, traveling to distant parts of the world, a global nomad of sorts, and I have the battle scars on my face to prove it. He is more impressed by the scars than anything else. You are a warrior, then, he says. I try to laugh but I am still cold from the driving rain.
I ask him to give me his take on the Summit. He chuckles a bit under his breath, then shakes his head. Well, he says, it’s good for business. We need tourists. And while they are here, my friend, they cannot blow up the world. Perhaps they can, I think to myself.
President Reagan must be carrying the nuclear suitcase, the one they call the football, which contains the codes for launching intercontinental ballistic missiles against the Soviets, either in response to a Soviet launch, or God forbid, a first strike, or worse, an accidental launch. I am told that once the missiles are launched they cannot be stopped in flight; no mechanism exists to halt the gravity’s rainbow of their descent and horrific destruction to follow. The end of the planet as we know it. An unimaginable nuclear winter. The death of millions. I try to be simpatico with my voluble Icelandic driver and laugh a bit at his feeble joke about not blowing up the world while engaged in bilateral talks for nuclear disarmament. Moments later, I regret laughing: it is no joke.
When we get to Höfdi House on the outskirts of the city he stops in front, turns his head around and hands me his business card, telling me to call him if I need another ride. Vertu blessaður. Goodbye, he waves. I might need him again. Takk. Thanks, I say. For sure. He could take me to places other journalists have not seen, he says, and enable me to write the kinds of atmospheric pieces my editor likes me to produce as I hunt the world in search of news and events and personal stories. Slices of time, slivers of history, chronicles of deceit, deception and corruption, if I can find them, if they can find me. I climb out of the cab, pay the driver and wave good-bye with a wink and a smile.
Höfdi House is like nothing I could possibly imagine for a summit between the leaders of the superpowers. My notes tell me it was built around the turn of the century and once housed the French foreign delegation during their tour of duty in this ancient capital. The house has a kind of weird style of Dutch architecture, to my mind, painted white with a slack roof. I am half-expecting to see Dutch windmills in the distance, spinning freely and generating electricity, but such is not the case. The house, I am told, is filled with ghosts, many ghosts, roomfuls of ghosts, as a matter of fact. This does not bode well for the Summit.
Outside the House I’ve spotted a pair of ravens, black as night sky, exchanging glances with each other, heads bobbing, beaks pecking, no doubt, as they size up the situation at the Summit, and look deep into the eyes of Reagan and Gorbachev who are due to arrive soon. Icelandic folklore, I’m told, has it that one of the Vikings, whose name was Hrafna-Flóki or Ravens-Flóki, used a pair of ravens, as the god Ódinn did, to find and eventually settle this magical land of fire and ice.