BLACK ON RED: My 44 Years Inside the Soviet Union by Robert with Jonathan Slevin Robinson

BLACK ON RED: My 44 Years Inside the Soviet Union

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Compelling account of a black American (with Jamaican and Cuban background) who gave up his citizenship in the early 30's to work in the Soviet Union. He's now 80 and has spent the past 10 years back in the States--and lying low. Robinson left Harlem for the Ford Motor Company in Detroit when he heard about the high wages being offered machinists. He was already a machinist, but had to start as a floor sweeper in the Ford plant before being allowed to attend machinists' school and at last become the lone black toolmaker in the entire factory. Despite his expertise, he was victimized by the white toolmakers he worked with. Thus, when a visiting group of Russian engineers spotted him behind his machine and later offered him a one-year job in Moscow at much higher pay (which would allow Robinson's mother to move from Cuba to Harlem) with rent-free quarters, paid 30-day vacation, and so on, he went. Robinson signed over for another year and another, coming home just once to see his mother. Back in Russia, once Stalin's purges began, he could not leave, though he tried to visit his ailing mother. The horror of the purges ended, only to be followed by the German invasion. Robinson spent WW II mainly in Moscow, tremendously deprived and hungry. At his factory he experienced Russian xenophobia to the hilt. was spied on constantly--and for 27 years after the war, his request for foreign travel was turned down annually. At last, Ugandans were persuaded to help him leave, and he squeaked his way to freedom via Africa. Robinson's laborer's-eye view of life in Russia is riveting, his view of glasnost most disturbing. Slowly, the reader finds himself in a black skin in a police state where black is not beautiful but utterly Martian: extraordinary.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1988
Publisher: Acropolis