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An Observer"" is identified only as a non-Communist, Russian-speaking Westerner residing for three years in the Soviet Union with an unusual measure of mobility. Bolstered by a certain intimacy with everyday life, ""Observer"" discards Kremlinology in favor of national mood-catching, the attempt to convey what it feels like to be a Soviet citizen these days, what ordinary Russians and the intellectual community are thinking and doing. On the day that Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia, ""Observer"" was struck by the bizarre tranquility of the Russian scene, reflecting both a monumental apathy and an unquestioning support by most of the people for all government moves. Neo-Stalinism is indeed rampant, with the KGB in the saddle, but the victims are professionally paralyzed rather than physically harmed. And ""winter's oppression plays a much greater role in daily Russian life than the dictatorship."" As for the ""angry young men"" so admired in Western presses, ""their anger is closer to despair and kept very carefully to themselves."" They admire the martyrs but accept their own impotence, while the great majority of the people are too wrapped up in daily concerns to give a damn. There is an ""extraordinary"" amount of freedom for ordinary, nonpolitical Russians, and with their ""remarkably low"" level of expectations and ambitions, most are quite content. ""Observer"" surveys feelings about sex (permissive), work (negative), African exchange students (racist), and the Chinese (hostile). His stress throughout is on the persistence of immemorial Russian behavior in Soviet society: ""It is primarily the wording that has changed, and not the important qualities of style, attitudes, and the relationship of the governing to the governed."" Instructive notes from the underground with an aura of authenticity.

Pub Date: Oct. 24th, 1969
Publisher: Knopf