As a child, she grew up listening to stories of her father’s association with a Soviet spy ring in Canada. Years later, Joyce Wayne published her second novel, Last Night of the World, which centres around these stories and is the first Canadian historical novel whose main character is a female spy.
Having known the stories of the spy ring her entire life, and after understanding the truth behind all of it, Wayne said she felt compelled to finally share them.
“They were such remarkable stories and also there was this major air of secrecy around them,” said Wayne. “I was also told never to talk about this in front of other people, which I didn’t.”
The calling for writing this book came five years ago after she completed her first novel.
“I just thought, it is time to write this story,” she said. “This is the story I know in my bones so to speak, and so I did.”
Wayne was born to a Russian-Jewish family who immigrated to Windsor, Ont., from a small village in Russia.
With the family experiencing some financial obstacles, Wayne said her father moved to Montreal for work. It was there that he was recruited by the Soviets and became involved with the Fred Rose campaign. (Rose was an MP who was convicted of a charge related to espionage in 1946.)
However, Wayne said her father’s involvement with the Soviet ring was not an allegiance to the Soviet Union, but rather a decision that would hopefully lead to a more comfortable life for Jews.
“He thought that the best thing going was Stalin’s offer of Birobidzhan and that’s what he spent most of his time working on,” said Wayne, referencing the Autonomous Jewish Oblast in the former Soviet Union and explaining this seemed like the only option for the safety of Jews at the time.
Beyond the stories she was told growing up, Wayne drew a lot of influence for her novel from her own experience.
“As I got older, I got really interested in politics and history and Jewish topics and so it all started to fit together,” said Wayne, noting the Igor Gouzenko case, a former Soviet spy who defected to the West in 1945. “That was in perfect keeping with what my father had told me. So, slowly but surely, the stories started to come together.”
After doing extensive research and having better luck than she expected with finding the information regarding this topic, Wayne decided the best format for her novel was historical fiction.
“As I was doing research for the book, these characters came alive and I knew I was going to be able to have a good story.”
Last Night of the World, recently published in paperback by Mosaic Press, features real-life characters including Freda Linton, Fred Rose, Nikolai Zabotin, and Igor Gouzenko. Wayne also references factual historical events such as Gouzenko’s defection to the West. As for the personal stories of the characters, Wayne felt their narratives would be better told through fiction.
“I think my feeling was that the narrative of the story and good storytelling had to take precedence.”
For Wayne, the writing and publishing of her book couldn’t be better timing.
“We underestimate how similar the tactics of the Soviets were to the tactics of the Russians that are being used today,” she said. “In fact, it shocked me because I would go in and read what they were doing and did all this research and trying to dissemble and trying to uproot a democracy… So when I’m listening to CNN and I’m hearing these stories, well it’s exactly the same tactics.”
With the current feedback Last Night of the World received, Wayne has been inspired to write her third novel.
“I didn’t what was going to happen, like who know when you publish a novel. But people like it,” she said.
Her next book will follow two familiar characters, Freda Linton and Nikolai Zabotin to Potsdam in 1945 and is looking to focus the novel on a few of the historical periods she skips over in Last Night of the World.