Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...
INSPIRED BY HER HUSBAND'S AFFAIR
IN 1989, ELIZABETH BENEDICT AND her husband of six years, actor-writer Richard Harrington, were living in Washington. One day Harrington received a phone call from a woman with whom he'd had a three-week affair in 1974, when he was single and acting American consul in Leningrad. Olga, once a television editor, was now married and living in Holland. "We all arranged to meet in Brussels a few months later," says Benedict, 38. "Of course I was a little nervous. I knew their affair had been passionate. But my husband was very reassuring about his commitment to me. When I met Olga—who was very beautiful, brassy, emotional—I realized I would write their story. And so I kept my eyes peeled, for the novel but also for myself as a woman. Because I felt her sizing Richard up."
Benedict didn't learn the full story of Olga's involvement with Harrington, now 52, until 1992, when Olga was on business in the U.S. and Benedict, two years into writing the novel, invited her over to talk. When the two women sat down in Benedict's kitchen, the author already knew that back in '74, after he'd left Leningrad, Harrington had been investigated by the State Department for his contact with Olga and subsequently barred from further Eastern Bloc posts. (He took early retirement in 1986.) "Olga admitted to me that the KGB had contacted her the day after she met Richard—something neither he nor I had known. Olga said, 'They told me to tell them everything he said. When I agreed, they said they were very happy. And I said I was happy too.' You see, had she not cooperated, she never would've seen Richard again. So she betrayed her lover for the sake of her own love."