In This Review

My Life as a Spy: Investigations in a Secret Police File
My Life as a Spy: Investigations in a Secret Police File
By Katherine Verdery
Duke University Press, 2018, 344 pp

From 1973 to 1988, Verdery, an anthropologist, spent a total of nearly four years conducting field research in Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania. Over that time, Romania’s security service amassed an impressive file on her, totaling 2,781 pages in eight volumes. She got ahold of it in 2008 and has spent much of the time since then dealing with its impact on her. The resulting book is an extraordinary exploration of her research, reexperienced through the eyes of those who surveilled her. Believing her to be a spy, the security services built up a wildly distorted picture of her, which she terms her “doppelgänger.” Rather than reflexively dismiss this double, she agonizes over its reality, its challenge to her identity, and its implications for her profession. The most dramatic portion of the book centers on her struggle to understand those who informed on her, particularly those she counted as close friends, a few of whom she has confronted face to face. Coming from such a distinguished academic, Verdery’s brutally honest description of herself, including as a naive and careless young scholar, is stunning. Few books reflect so frankly and so powerfully on the nature and complications of an academic career.