“A teacher may forget a student; but a student will never forget a teacher.” I found that to be true over the years, for many of my former Soviet students have continued to keep in touch with me thanks to the Internet.
One such student, who was on staff at the BBC in London, serving on the Russian Bureau until he retired, contacted me by phone from Paris to tell me how much he enjoyed the book.
“I knew all of the characters in the book, Mr. Tom,” he said. “I am so happy that you are alive and found time to write it. Do you remember who I am?”
I conceded that the four decades of separation had dimmed my memory.
“Do you remember when the Harlem Globetrotters came to Tiflis and you had picked ten players to go watch them play?”
I admitted that I remembered when the professional black basketball team visited the USSR, but I did not remember the incident of choosing my players to attend the exhibition game. “That was so long ago.”
“It doesn’t matter, of course,” my former student said, “But I was No. 11, and I didn’t get to go. And I cried all night and that’s why I remember it so well.”
I profusely apologized for the sadness I had inadvertently caused, and told him I was very sorry.
“Oh, I ready didn’t care…I was just happy playing for you.”
Curious, I asked, “Do you recall what the administration at the school said when I didn’t show up in the gym to conduct my class?”
“Oh, yes, yes, of course, I do. They said that Tavahrishch Tom was sick, and that you have been taken to a sanatorium to get some rest. And that you would soon come back.”
Interesting, I thought. “Did you and the others believe what they said?”
“Of course not, Mr. Tom.” There was a pause. “We knew better. We knew you were somewhere in Siberia.”
Tom Mooradian was one of 151 Americans who traveled to Soviet Armenia to repatriate during the 1940’s. Thought to be a spy by the KGB, Tom miraculously survived 13 years behind the Iron Curtain winning the hearts of the Soviets through his basketball prowess. Filled with political drama, romance, and intrigue, Tom’s autobiography, The Repatriate reads like a novel, and will have you guessing how Tom managed to return to America alive.
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