Among Soviet dissidents, Amalrik was one of the regime's most dogged annoyers--because one of its most dogged...



Among Soviet dissidents, Amalrik was one of the regime's most dogged annoyers--because one of its most dogged individualists. So his memoir has a freshness irrespective of the others that have appeared. After serving a prison term for his ""parasitic"" lifestyle, playwright Amalrik became involved, in the mid-1960s, in transmitting dissident documents to the West and in monitoring the trials of other dissidents--beginning with that of his friend Alexander Ginzberg, and three others, in 1966. Amalrik played cat-and-mouse with the KGB until the 1970 publication, in the West, of Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?: a full-bodied critical evaluation of Soviet ideology and economic and political weaknesses. That landed him another prison sentence, and it is the three-and-a-half ensuing years that make up the middle third of his story. Amalrik drove the authorities mad with a stream of cleverly executed complaints. He describes the meager, ghastly food given prisoners--then tells us that he demanded to know, in a letter to prison officials, who it was that was stealing the food, since he was sure they didn't want to starve the prisoners. This tactic--intended, like others, to upset the unreflective routine of his bureaucratic tormentors--worked for a while; and when the food reverted to normal, he at least had the pleasure of a small, if fleeting, victory. Later, Amalrik went on a hunger strike and was force-fed; the damage to his already-fragile constitution led him to ask for expulsion from the country instead of imprisonment or internal exile. He didn't get his wish right away, and spent three years in a renewed tussle with the KGB (being hustled out of Moscow, for instance, every time something big went on in the Kremlin); in 1976, he finally left the country, at which point his story ends. (Amalrik was killed in a car crash in Spain in 1980, at the age of 42.) In an ideological sense, Amalrik identified with no group, standing on an unshakable and unquestioned individualism. In 1968, when seven of his friends protested the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia (a protest he praises), Amalrik and his artist wife Gusel were alone protesting for Britain's support, along with the USSR's, for Nigeria in the civil war with Biafra. On his fellow-dissidents, Amalrik is highly critical of Solzhenitsyn's dogmatism (to Amalrik, S. is constantly reliving the 1940s); finds the Medvedev brothers, Roy and Zhores, to be too caught up in social democratic illusions; and regards Sakharov as a man with saint-like qualities--all the more remarkable because of the high status he once held in the USSR. Sufficiently assured to be almost good-humored about his travails, Amalrik is bracing to read: not for nothing does his title echo his anarchist forebear Kropotkin.

Pub Date: June 17, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1982