The Cold War–era Russian travels of the noted British novelist.
“Gadabout” is a more appropriate term than “gadfly,” since Sillitoe (New and Collected Stories, 2005, etc.)—the Angry Young Man of Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1960) fame—seldom sinks his Socratic stinger into the flesh of Soviet society. The impulse that took him to Russia in 1967 was more of the let’s-go-see-what-there-is-to-see sort, even if he was better equipped than most daytrippers—not only with his own car but also with hand-drawn maps showing, strategically, the location of gas stations and other necessities. Arriving from Finland, Sillitoe encountered signs of the times: “A young man played a Beatles tape: ‘We all live in a yellow submarine...’ and two Swedish mariners were trying to kiss a couple of Russian girls.” He also met his Passepartout, an official escort named George Andjapasidze, who eventually became the author’s good friend. Sillitoe’s path took him across western Russia and through the Iron Curtain to Yugoslavia, a winding itinerary “from the Baltic to the Adriatic.” Though not looking for trouble, he certainly found it, for the young literature students he encountered were, like their Western counterparts, in a rebellious spirit. A frank conversation, a speech before a writer’s group, a coincidental defection of a Soviet writer, and Sillitoe now finds himself less welcome in the country—and increasingly censored.
A spry, readable literary travelogue that stretches from the ’60s to the present, chronicling eternal verities and changing moods alike.