Book Review: 'MiG Pilot'
The book “MiG Pilot” is the true story of a Soviet pilot, Viktor Ivanovich Belenko, who flew his plane to Japan as part of a daring escape from the USSR before making a life for himself in America. The stories of many people who risked their lives to flee oppressive communist regimes are overlooked today, but his retains interest because it was so unique.
This 1983 nonfiction book has many strengths and a few drawbacks.
Pros of the Book Mig Pilot
Viktor Belenko’s story in the West starts with his arrival in Japan in the Mig jet he flew to that nation to escape from Russia, then the Soviet Union. The book Mig Pilot addresses his childhood in Soviet Russia. The little details are what make the book come to life. Imagine wanting to grow up tall and strong, reading about cheese but never having had any. Hunting for meat was a necessity to get enough protein. Waiting in line for hours was a necessary to get necessities in life. When class is dismissed to bring in the crops, it is hard not to wonder why it is necessary in the USSR but not America. This book is an essential read for those who want to understand the impact of socialist shortages on day to day life.
The book continues through Belenko’s college career and move into the military. The soldiers were ordered to plant trees so the visiting military leader could have a nice tree lined approach to the base, and the fact that the labor was a waste because the trees died were irrelevant. It is akin to the stories of people harvesting timber per orders and then burying the trees because there were no trucks to take the wood into town. Soldiers had passes to the bath house for every few days, and they didn’t even have proper facilities to wash dishes, causing outbreaks of dysentery. Kids who had no ability to fly got into the flight school, and the paperwork to get the kid out rivaled scenes from the movie “Brazil”, funniest scenes in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or trying to compare plans on the Obamacare website.
Belenko’s memories show that the horrors of a socialist system are not horror stories. When there is socialized medicine, the politically connected get better care. In the USSR then and Cuba today, that was Communist Party members. In Canada of the 2000s, it is government officials using the military medical facilities and pop stars getting priority treatment and private rooms.
Likewise, there are the observations about the son of a Party Member getting an apartment before everyone else, and a dozen other anecdotes that reveal the impact of the corruption that comes when the government controls access to everything. This book is a study on how people with a little power can be trusted to use it to lord over those below them, despite everyone being called “comrade”.
Viktor Belenko’s thoughts on the American system of the 1970s in contrast to all he had been taught by political officers are amusing. He couldn’t believe that the grocery stores he toured were real, because none of the food was rotting. He finally realized that the society was truly free when he watched how closely people worked together on an air craft carrier. No one could or would work that well together unless they liked their jobs and respected their peers.
The book “Mig Pilot” gives a behind the scenes look at the somewhat standard process of educating/indoctrinating Soviet Union refugees. From English classes to trips to amusement parks, you learn how Mr. Belenko handled his tours with his handlers and conversations he had with them, along with the processes they had to follow when handling a Soviet defector.
At a little over 200 pages, this is one of the easiest and fastest introductions to true life in the Soviet Union that you can find.
This book gives an interesting glimpse into the propaganda that the Soviet Union used, such as the parading of Belenko’s wife on TV giving a prepared speech describing her life without her husband baking cookies and pining for him, full of details that are closer to that of an American housewife than a Soviet working woman.
Drawbacks of the Book Mig Pilot
The story of Mig pilot Belenko ends in the early 1980s, after having discussed his efforts to assimilate to American culture. The book was never updated. We don’t have what could be an amazing new chapter on his opinion on the fall of the Soviet Union roughly a decade after the book ends. Did he ever go back to Russia to meet his now grown son?
This engaging book is only available in paperback. It is not available in eBook format through either Amazon Kindle or Google books.
The book “Mig Pilot: The Final Escape of Lt. Belenko” is an essential primer on actual daily life in the Soviet Union, espionage and propaganda in the 1970s, as well as a thrilling true action / adventure book.