Koch (Double Lives: Espionage and the War of Ideas, 1994, etc.) revisits the rude coming-of-age for American intellectuals in a deeply thoughtful, trenchant examination of a literary friendship soured during the Spanish Civil War.
The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War was thought to be “the great transforming convulsion” that intellectuals all over the world had been waiting for: the defining struggle at last between the radical fascist right, led by General Franco, and radical left, led by the elected Spanish government. Yet, as a few perceptive writers, like modernist truth-seeker John Dos Passos, quickly discovered, the cause wasn’t quite so clear cut, especially since the left—the Popular Front—was financed and factionalized by the Soviet Comintern as it worked for Stalin and the appeasement of Hitler. When “Dos” discovered that his dear friend Jose “Pepe” Robles, a Spanish teacher chosen by the Soviet leadership to act as a kind of liaison to the Republic, had been dragged from his home at night and later shot on trumped-up charges of treason, Dos worked tirelessly to convince others, including Hemingway, of the shifting shades of treachery. However, for “Hem,” the war was an intense experience necessary for renewing his artistic and emotional health, and thus he could easily be manipulated by the Soviet agents into swallowing the official line. As his paranoia grew, Hem attacked and humiliated Dos publicly, ending the friendship. Koch’s previous research into Comintern’s propaganda czar Willi Munzenberg allows him a terrific grasp of the events that brought the war in Spain and the Great Terror of 1936–38 into perfect coincidence; he exposes the insidious apparatchik Joris Ivens and his propaganda film, The Spanish Earth, so adored by leftist America, and examines the double lives of many of these characters. He often treats Hem with savage sarcasm and Dos with sympathetic kid gloves, but it makes a whopping good literary tale.
A defining conflict that still fascinates, explored here by a master of the literary and the political.