AN UN-AMERICAN CHILDHOOD: A Young Woman's Secret Life Behind the Iron Curtain by Ann Kimmage

AN UN-AMERICAN CHILDHOOD: A Young Woman's Secret Life Behind the Iron Curtain

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Or, I Was a Teenage Communist. An American woman's memoir of her communist family's secret life abroad during the McCarthy era reveals the Cold War's highly personal dimensions. At the age of seven, Kimmage (n‚e Chapman) fled her home in Queens with her older sister and her parents, Abe and Belle, both active members of the American Communist Party. Their flight from New York City to Mexico was but the first of the author's multiple displacements. The abrupt and mysterious moves raised more than the usual number of a child's questions about identity within family and society. But it was her final uprooting--the forced return to her American homeland by disillusioned parents from the Czechoslovakia she considered her linguistic and cultural home--that created the basic tension that drives this moving memoir. At its heart is the cruel and ironic gap that evolved between herself and her parents during the momentous years of the '50s and early '60s. Ann Chapman became Czech-speaking Anna Capkova and evolved into a devoted communist youth in Prague. Her parents refused to learn Czech and faced the harsh realities of life in a communist country and the confusion of the Hungarian uprising. Abe and Belle Chapman remained homesick for the US. The final blow to their ideological faith proved to he their work in China, where they saw firsthand the coming excesses of the cultural revolution. Kimmage (English and Russian/Pittsburgh State Univ.) movingly portrays her parents' strengths and weaknesses; her reader retains an admiration for these two determined and refreshing personalities while begrudging the author's return to the United States against her wishes at the mature age of 21. Kimmage's tale of divided loyalties is a timely reminder of the need to reassess the Cold War's legacy at home as well as abroad.

Pub Date: April 25th, 1996
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Univ. of Georgia