AGNES SMEDLEY by Janice R. & Stephen R. MacKinnon MacKinnon


Email this review


The biography of a misunderstood maverick branded as a Soviet spy by American right-wingers and as an unstable fanatic by left-leaning activists. The authors present Smedley as a radical among radicals whose impassioned mind and heart drove her, regardless of ideology, to rescue the world's downtrodden. From coal-miner's daughter to free-lance revolutionary, Smedley transformed the personal rage born of her ignorant, abusive, white-trash upbringing into creative militancy on behalf of Indian and Chinese anticolonialism and, sometimes in conflict with her other aims, feminism. Moving among the liberal and leftist intelligentsia but never belonging to them, Smedley lived as a writer (acclaimed for reporting from China in the 1930's), but always cared more for the barefoot peasant than the perfectly placed comma. Her muckraking, here quoted plentifully, along with equally opinionated correspondence and autobiography, is strident and devoid of dewey-eyed idealization of the poor. Protective of her own political and personal independence, Smedley never towed a party line--witness her rejection by the Chinese Communist Party and her public criticism of Mao, Madame Sun Yat-sen, and Chiang Kai-shek alike. Unruly romance and political hobnobbing make this thoughtful life story titillating too. There was in Smedley's life only a lack of the less exciting blessings, compromise and rest: thus, friendships suffered, editors rejected, and loneliness ensued. Smedley's tale, however, is far from demoralizing, for she never stopped revelling in her crusades, tending wounded Chinese with the same gusto that she brought to teaching square dancing to Red Army comrades after the Long March. A well-researched account of a gutsy, embattled life.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Univ. of California Press