A WRITER'S WIT
My Book World
In some ways I’m embarrassed to say that this book has been on my shelf since 1974—unread. It is a paperback of such vintage that I had to be careful about cracking the ancient glue in the spine or pages would have fallen out. Though the read was a slog—not having a Russian history background—I was able to glean much of its purpose. The writer wishes for people in the West to know that Russian citizens experienced a purge probably as horrendous as what took place in Germany in the 1940s, if not worse. At least a million Soviet citizens held in custody by the Allies at the end of World War II were handed over to officials at the end of the war. This does not include other enemies of the people.
One must remember scads of acronyms in this book, and yet they are based on the Russian words, not the English version, so it is more difficult to recall the connections. For example SMERSH stands for Soviet counterintelligence but means “death to spies.” GPU stands for Russian words meaning State Political Administration. Also difficult to recall for an English reader are people’s names; except for Stalin, most are quite multisyllabic.
Yet there is much the naïve reader can take from this book. Solzhenitsyn speaks bluntly of many things.
“I smiled in pride that I had been arrested not for stealing, nor treason, nor desertion, but because I had discovered through my power of reasoning the evil secrets of Stalin. I smiled at the thought that I wanted, and might still be able, to effect some small remedies and changes in our Russian way of life” (167)
The Russians present to the world such a mixed and puzzling heritage. On the one hand, we treasure great Russian literature and drama, superb music including ballet, fine visual art and more. On the other, Russians, either by way of their isolation from the rest of the world, and its inherent paranoia, have a mean streak in their DNA, whether it is by way of the Czarist leaders, the Soviets, or post-Soviet PutinWorld. They desire to be respected as a substantial part of the world, but simply put, do not know how to play nice. And it seems to be a cycle that is difficult to break.
NEXT FRIDAY: My Book World | Jennifer L. Eberhardt's Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do