In This Review

Agent Sonya: Moscow’s Most Daring Wartime Spy
Agent Sonya: Moscow’s Most Daring Wartime Spy
By Ben Macintyre
400 pp, Crown, 2020
Purchase

Macintyre’s new page-turner is the true story of Ursula Kuczynski, a German Jew, a passionate Communist, and an amazingly efficient Soviet spy code-named “Sonya.” The Soviet agent Richard Sorge recruited Kuczynski in Shanghai in the early 1930s; in the 1940s, she was the handler of the Manhattan Project physicist Klaus Fuchs, who slipped her documents providing the nuclear know-how that proved essential to the Soviet Union’s development of an atomic bomb. Sonya lived a double life, running an extremely perilous spy operation while also being a housewife and a loving mother of three. Like many successful spies, she benefited from incredible luck. When Stalin executed most of his foreign intelligence agents, Sonya was miraculously spared. When her children’s nanny denounced her to the British authorities, they dismissed the nanny’s claims as far-fetched. In 1950, just as MI5 was about to arrest her, she managed to escape to East Germany. She told her Soviet minders there that she would like to end her spy career, and they accepted her decision: a unique case of a Soviet spy granted early retirement. She began a new life as a popular novelist and died in 2000 at the age of 93.