BEHIND THE BERLIN WALL: An Encounter in East Germany by Steven Kelman

BEHIND THE BERLIN WALL: An Encounter in East Germany

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Kelman is a young Harvard graduate who made a name for himself writing anti-New Left articles for the New York Times Magazine and the like while still in high school, capped by his book Push Comes to Shove (1970). In the summer of 1971 he posed as a ""progressive"" sympathizer with the East German state (DDR) in order to write a New Yorker report on the horrors of the regime -- also the subject of this book. This involved a prolonged charade between him and a couple of secret agents assigned to guide him around. On the one hand, Kelman is constantly terrified that they will discover his true anti-Communist colors and imprison him -- but not so terrified that he was reluctant to strike up immediate critical conversations with anyone who happened along, chiefly disgruntled bohemian kids predictably pro-American. Perhaps he figured that even a jail spell would make a fine article; perhaps he wrote half the book in a Paris cafe. In any case it's a '50's C-movie tract, spiced with James Kunenesque vernacular -- the venal, cynical, anti-human secret agent in particular makes a really fiendish subject. The book seems rather a waste of Kelman's polemical talents, since no American of any political persuasion, except a few Communist Party types whom Kelman anathemizes in such principled political terms as ""yenta,"" would defend the DDR. Kelman occasionally alludes to the possibility that East Germans in ""the sticks"" like the regime better than the hard-pressed workers, consumers, and students of the cities, but there is no evidence of sustained investigation. Given these basic criticisms, it is gratuitous to point out that West Germany does not necessarily afford such a glowing contrast as Kelman insists. The New Yorker story itself is appended. Even those who share Kelman's avowed passion against Communism may find this a nugatory venture, though it will doubtless get publicity.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1972
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin