PEOPLE AND LIFE by Ilya Ehrenburg


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On occasion, the Ilya Ehrenburg memoir People and Life is ablaze with both. As a panoramic, if highly personal, portrayal of ""politicians, writers, artists, dreamers, adventurers"" in Czarist Russia, pre-World War Paris and post-Bolshevik Moscow, ending somewhere around the mid-twenties, the pages sparkle with charm, consequence and a certain amount of candor; it caused, as the saying goes, a sensation in 1960 amongst the Kremlin literati. Ehrenburg, of course, is that oft-saluted Soviet novelist, one who survived the terror, influenced the so-called thaw and now is the exemplar par excellence of the current cultural Party-line, at least with the moderates- what Manya Harari's recent Encounter article tagged ""experienced brinkmanship"". Thus his book is less a chronicle than an opinion-setter, a myth-shaker, with the two big blasts involving recollections of Mayakovsky as a troublesome, tormented genius rather than the officially sponsored proletarian poet, and a reconsideration and proposed rehabilitation of long damned abstractionists, the painters Malevich and Tatlin; in this way, Ehrenburg subtly, at times too smoothly, attacks socialist realism and, by implication, the Stalinist suppression. However, sprinkled throughout are the usual anti-American, anti-capitalist sentiments and the equally usual celebrations of Marxism-Leninism and the glorious Russian people. Of note: well-remembered manifesto chit-chat with the emigres and experimentalists of the Cafe Rotonde, the roster comprising Apollinaire, Modigliani, Picasso and Rivera's somnambulist furors. At its best, a revealing, unrestricted document.

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 1962
Publisher: Knopf