A veteran TV news correspondent’s memoir of his first assignment in Russia, which corresponded with Nikita Khrushchev’s unprecedented “thaw.”
A graduate student studying Russian history and language in 1956, Kalb (Imperial Gamble: Putin, Ukraine, and the New Cold War, 2015, etc.) was plucked by the State Department to do translation work for an international organization in Moscow. In his first memoir, the former anchor of NBC’s Meet the Press and senior adviser at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the author, now in his 80s, switches from writing history to writing about himself to depict this extraordinarily enlightening year—not an easy task. He relies on a diary he kept during this year working as a translator/interpreter, traveling around Russia, and even meeting Khrushchev himself, who made a historic address to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union tearing down the cult worship of the once-untouchable Stalin, who had died in 1953. Raised in the Bronx and in Washington Heights, Kalb attended City College in the footsteps of his older brother, Bernard, who became a New York Times journalist and whose advice proved prophetic: if the author wanted to become a journalist, he should “cultivate an area of expertise…that would catch the eye of an editor or producer.” Learning Russian proved to be the ticket. In Moscow, Kalb was assigned the work of translating and analyzing the Soviet press, which would give clues to what was really going on in the Kremlin. Khrushchev’s speech did change history, and during a time of enormous political uncertainty, Kalb describes scenes of spontaneous youthful demonstrations at the Lenin Library, which would spread that summer to the East Bloc. The author has an amazing story of an important year in Russian history, but the prose doesn’t always match the gravity of the events he recounts.
An intriguing eyewitness historical account rendered in a surprisingly pedestrian manner.