Cold Victory

Written by Karl Marlantes
Review by Peter Clenott

In the late winter of 1946, Louise Koski and her husband Arnie, a career military officer, arrive in Helsinki, Finland. Louise is a fresh-faced Oklahoma girl who has never traveled outside the United States. Arnie has been assigned an important State Department post with the American legation. While the war with Nazi Germany is over, a new war is underway: the Cold War with former ally turned enemy, the Soviet Union.

Almost immediately, Louise makes friends with the wife of a Russian official, Natalya Bobrova. Natalya’s husband, Mikhail, coincidentally knows Arnie from the dying days of World War II. The story explores the paranoia of not being able to trust anyone—even the best of friends—and anything they say or do.

Louise and Natalya both are fully aware they are being spied upon by the relentless MGB, the Russian secret police. Yet their friendship grows as Louise, needing to feel relevant, engages Natalya in a plan to help a local orphanage raise funds. Their husbands, in the meantime, impulsively challenge each other to a cross country skiing duel for the pride of their combat units. These acts of kindness and bravado, in any other place and time but Cold War Finland, would be harmless. Instead, unwittingly, the Koskis and the Bobrovas have plunged themselves into a struggle for survival.

Cold Victory brilliantly captures the impossibility of living in a state where a misinterpreted smile or misguided gaze can lead to one’s demise. The pace picks up as the Koski-Bobrova cross country race becomes an international battlefield for prestige. War could erupt. Lives hang in the balance. Author Marlantes doesn’t write for the Disney Company. His warning is clear: if we descend into authoritarianism, we may no longer be able to trust those we hold most dear.