ILYA EHRENBURG: Writing, Politics, and the Art of Survival by Anatol Goldberg

ILYA EHRENBURG: Writing, Politics, and the Art of Survival

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The subtitle sums up Ilya Ehrenburg, a poet, journalist, novelist, and memoirist most notable for surviving Stalin's purges. And, as Goldberg points out, Ehrenburg's survival was all the more remarkable because he was a Jew and had been in Spain covering the Civil War for lzvestia, two sure routes to the Gulag. But Ehrenburg somehow stayed on and became an important propagandist during WWII, when his ""Kill the Germans"" theme made him the soldiers' favorite. Postwar, Ehrenburg toed Stalin's line and served as a mouthpiece for the Moscow-run World Peace Movement, carefully trying to avoid lying in the West about what he knew was happening to dissidents in the East, but lying, too, when he couldn't avoid it. His great fame came with publication of his novel, The Thaw, which appeared after Khruschev's ""revelations"" about Stalin and gave the period of liberalization its name. Afterwards, Ehrenburg successfully defended modernism against Khrushchev's strictures and, in his six-volume memoirs, revived the memory of Mandelstam, Tsvetayeva, and other poets who perished under Stalin. (He had less luck getting his old friend Bukharin's name past the censor.) Those memoirs are the basic material for Goldberg's study, and that's part of the reason he never manages to bring Ehrenburg's feints to judgment. Still, Ehrenburg's life was colorful enough. A young Bolshevik drop-out jailed at 17, he was shipped off by his father to Paris before the Great War and promptly became a Bohemian, frequenting the Rotonde along with Picasso, Diego Rivera, and other artists and writers. At times, he also lived in Vienna, Berlin (which he detested), and Spain. He never joined the old Bolsheviks in the new Communist Party, and, during the upheavals, satirized aspects of Soviet life. But his early, sentimental works seem to have appealed to Stalin, and caused him to overlook the author's more caustic side. Avid anti-fascism brought Ehrenburg back into the fold (he bridled at the Hitler-Stalin pact, but kept mum) and he hit his stride as a journalist. Goldberg, an ÉmigrÉ BBC broadcaster who died in 1982 (the book was completed by. BBC Moscow veteran Erik de Mauny), keeps up expertly with Ehrenberg's movements; but the cosmopolitan Ehrenburg, who could easily have moved West, remains elusive.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Viking