THE ROMANCE OF AMERICAN COMMUNISM by Vivian Gornick
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THE ROMANCE OF AMERICAN COMMUNISM

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KIRKUS REVIEW

According to ex-Communist anti-communists like Arthur Koestler, becoming a Communist involves leaving reason and human emotion at the door and transforming oneself into an automaton of world revolution. Gornick (co-editor of Woman in Sexist Society), who grew up in a Jewish immigrant family in the Bronx, didn't believe that, since most of the talkative, excited people she remembers warmly from those years were Communists. So she took a year and interviewed former Communists to ask them why they had joined the Party, how it had affected their lives, and how they feel about it now. She does not say how many she interviewed in all (there are 45 included), or how she found them, and the whole project is far from a ""scientific sampling"" . . . happily. She includes people of varying origins--Eastern European Jews, Eastern European gentiles, American populists, and upper- and middle-class dropouts--and places them in groupings dealing with their entry into the Party, the daily life of a Party member, their break with the CP, and where they went afterwards. The testaments are interwoven with Gornick's observations about the subject and setting, and occasionally she paraphrases. The perfect balance occurs when she is speaking with the N.Y. Jews of her youth--whether it is Ben Salzman, still a cutter in the garment district, for whom CP membership meant a strength of character he never recovered, or Selma Gardinsky recalling the tedious rhythm of Party work made bearable by the knowledge that ""I was remaking the world."" Most of them are bitter now--about the Party purges, the realization that they did not have all the answers, the sacrifice of other aspects of their personality to political activity. Some were permanently crippled by going underground on Party orders in the 1940s. But all are able to convey something of the excitement and satisfaction that went with being a Communist, giving life to a suppressed episode of American history.

Pub Date: Feb. 17th, 1977
Publisher: Basic Books