Jazz with Ella by Jan DeGrass. Published by Libros Libertad, 226 pages, $23. Available at 32 Books in North Vancouver and Save On Foods at Pemberton Plaza.
THE Cold War between the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Canada is brought back to life in Jan DeGrass' debut novel, Jazz With Ella, a story of international intrigue and young love.
The story was sparked by cultural trips DeGrass took to the USSR in 1973 and '74. Designed to immerse students from the University of Waterloo (not the fictional University of Vancouver used in the book) in the enigmatic eastern country. The lines between fiction and fact blend often in both characters and customs.
While we may now find the rumours of microphones in every venue habituated by westerners to be far-fetched, that was the reality, DeGrass said. Along with the ongoing bugging was the recruiting of Canadians to remain in the country.
"If they suspected they could turn you there was a lot of encouragement (for you) to stay in the Soviet Union," she said.
"Western groups were very carefully handled and managed by the tourist guides. The key difference was that our group could speak the language. The '70s had relaxed over the '60s but they really didn't want us talking to any Russians."
Some of the fascinating details in the story are based on her unique experiences.
"The cruise on the Volga River was special. We were the first Westerners some of those people had seen. They were as surprised by us as we were by them."