RIGHT IN HER SOUL: The Life of Anna Louise Strong by Tracy B. & Helene Keyssar Strong

RIGHT IN HER SOUL: The Life of Anna Louise Strong

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Peking's Peace Compound for resident foreigners was ""the fulfillment of the dreams"" that had followed Anna Louise Strong (1885-1970) ""since Chicago's Hull House,"" write Strong's grand-nephew and his wife. The observation is chiefly personal, and not wholly flattering: Strong needed to have people around her, and liked to have things done for her. It has political application too: as a journalist and Communist, Strong was drawn to the commune-ideal--in post-Revolutionary Russia and in post-Revolutionary China. The authors, whose knowledge of Strong's doings and reactions (mainly from her voluminous writings and papers) is almost matched by their blind-spots on international politics, extend this outlook indiscriminately. ""Anna Louise,"" they note benignly and vacuously, ""gained a vivid sense of the intense commitment binding together the heterogeneous groups who made up Loyalist Spain."" (Nine months before the Crash, they have her delivering inspirational lectures on Soviet women-and-marriage to Americans ""suffering from the dislocations of the Depression."") As the biography of a historical figure, this suffers from lack of an objectively valid context; as the life of a controversial personage, it lacks perspective. And Strong herself is both glorified and diminished. We see her as the brilliant, difficult oldest child of a puritanical minister and an activist mother, who encouraged her to seek adventure and died young. Her father thwarted her marriage-prospects (to Roger Baldwin, in particular). As a journalist/poet publicist for the IWW in 1917 Seattle, she exhibited an ""assertive, unmannered"" writing style that would commend her, 50 years later, as the English-language exponent of the thoughts of Chairman Mao. Uncomfortable with political wrangles, she put her faith in ""the semiorganized 'natural' instincts of the working class."" Following that Grail, and with a growing investment in the communist movement, she overlooked both the 1930s Soviet purges and the Cultural Revolution's purgations, though she had doubts on both scores. Cast out by the Soviets (for suspected ""Titoism""), renounced by American Communists, she found refuge in Mao's China--""given the assignment,"" Harrison Salisbury inferred, ""of presenting China's case to Western Communists."" This is to put starkly what Strong and Keyssar set forth overall as the story of a latter-day American pioneer woman (down to physical discomforts). With all the detail--and notwithstanding the drawbacks--it cannot but interest serious students.

Pub Date: Feb. 2nd, 1983
Publisher: Random House