London was an undersecretary for foreign affairs in the Czech Communist government when the state security service arrested...



London was an undersecretary for foreign affairs in the Czech Communist government when the state security service arrested him in January 1951 and defined him as an enemy of Party and country. For 22 months he was interrogated and then inculcated with a confession script a la the Moscow Trials. His noble record in the Spanish Civil War and the French resistance was transformed into a life of anarchist-Trotskyite-Titoist subversion ranging from ex post facto deviations to counterrevolutionary espionage. He was forced to implicate other defendants in what became the famous Slansky trial. London's illness and suicide attempts, the prison conditions and glimpses of former comrades, the anti-Semitic upsurge and topical appeal of Czechoslovakia, plus the, yes, Kafkaesque mixture of bureaucratic illogic and unfathomable brutality makes a strong story (and a perfect Z-type movie, now in the works according to the publisher). London says he didn't plead innocent because he was afraid for his family, reluctant to embarrass the Party under cold-war pressure, and of course mentally and physically extinguished. Sentenced to life imprisonment, he presently pushed to revise his case, was released during the 1956 Khrushchev anti-Stalin upheaval, and rehabilitated during the 1968 liberalization (he doesn't say what he did in between). Nor do they really tell us; the book itself is apolitical; it doesn't explain why ""cosmopolitans"" and Jews were targeted, or begin to probe the links between the prosecutor's ""Czechoslovakia shall not become another Yugoslavia!"", the barely noted charge of promoting anti-Soviet trade policies, and the accusation of ""bourgeois nationalism,"" which would go to the heart of the matter. Often London seems to be fooling us, himself, or both: though his internment was preceded by the Rajk trial et cetera, it takes him a spell in prison to say ""So the Soviets were behind it all""; he notes that chief Gottwald is in on the witch-hunt, then hopes his testimony will help Gottwald see the security police's outrages. The alignment of forces and pertinent policies is, in short, obscured, and the flavor of intrigue and corruption captured in Ladislav Mnacko's more biting novel The Taste of Power (1967) is missing. The tone is crudely self-complacent and the style is that of pedestrian melodrama (the translation being the sort that says ""I departed"" for ""I left""). No Koestlerian soul-searchings here, nor analytic value, but a great deal of compelling raw material. Chronology and dramatis personae appended.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 1970


Page Count: -

Publisher: Morrow

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1970