RaveThe Washington PostIn the Garden of Beasts at times seems derivative of a 1940 memoir, Through Embassy Eyes, by Martha Dodd, one of the main characters of his tale. Much of the material is the same, but we can forgive that because Larson fills in everything that Dodd herself felt obliged to leave out: It’s not every U.S. ambassador’s daughter who becomes a spy for the Soviet Union. We can also forgive Larson because his book reads like an elegant thriller — and certainly better than the elegant thriller, Sowing the Wind, that Dodd wrote. I found Larson’s book to be utterly compelling, and while I was reading it there were several occasions on which I had to stop and check to make sure it really was a work of nonfiction. It is — and marvelous stuff. You really couldn’t invent it in a novel because no one would believe you.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewEach time I’ve finished one of Kanon’s books, I’ve asked myself why I haven’t read all of them. There are now eight. As soon as I was done with Defectors, I ordered all the rest from my local bookshop ... Kanon’s is a finely observed portrait of a bitchy, brittle, incestuous world ... If I have any complaints about Defectors, it’s that its depiction of the Soviet Union of 1961 doesn’t seem nearly grim enough. I was there 28 years later, and the place was a dismal dump where only the American dollar had any value. But this is a small complaint, particularly since all the substantial details of the novel’s setting are accurate.