A FINE OLD CONFLICT by Jessica Mitford
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A FINE OLD CONFLICT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

After Jessica Mitford's hilarious, not-at-all repentant memoir of her years as a bona fide member of the Red Menace, what she calls the ""I Was Duped school"" of American ex-Party members may never recover a properly grave demeanor. Since the McCarthy era, the recantations and recriminations have been so numerous that someone born after 1940 might well wonder how anyone of any intellect or morality could have been part of such a priggish, opportunistic sect. A Fine Old Conflict (Jessica, in her youth, misheard the words of the ""Internationale"" . . . the part that called for ""the final conflict"") should alter this grim view mightily. Jessica manages the feat of poking fun at the Party--its fund-raising, its endless ""forms and charts,"" its special patois--while maintaining a defiant pride in its crusades and a deep affection for its rank-and-file troops. Jessica and her lawyer husband joined in 1944--she after loving it from afar since girlhood--and served it as fervently as they did everything until the Party's growing lassitude and inactivity made them, regretfully, pack it in. As she experienced it from San Francisco and Oakland, the CP was, much of the time, a vibrant, challenging outpost from which to do battle with the Oakland police (racist, then as later), the local D.A., the minions of HUAC, and the watchdogs at the US Passport Office. These comrades, Decca knew, were the people she had been looking for ever since she opened her Running Away Account--to escape the hideous family and class she was born to. In the Forties and Fifties, ""I fear we were tiresomely self-righteous,"" she acknowledges, but it is in reality a small quibble, though one which generates much laughter here. The book is not all Jessica and the Party, by any means. Domestic contretemps intervene in the persons of Muv and Debo and Nancy--stiletto at the ready--who are revisited after long years of separation; and in Aranka, the long-suffering Jewish mother-in-law. Happily for us, Jessica the loyal Party functionary retained all the lofty high-handedness of her aristocratic rearing, carrying it with her into all her improbable involvements. A gutsy and immensely heartening book.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Knopf