AN AMERICAN ENGINEER IN STALIN'S RUSSIA by Zara Witkin

AN AMERICAN ENGINEER IN STALIN'S RUSSIA

The Memoirs of Zara Witkin, 1932-1934
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Informative but self-absorbed memoir written over 50 years ago by a prominent engineer who went to Russia with a dream of building the workers' paradise and left disgusted by bureaucracy, terrorism, and corruption. Witkin (1900-40) was a brilliant young engineer from Russian- Jewish emigrant stock who, disheartened by capitalism's inequities, bought the Russian Revolution's promise. His resolve to go to the USSR was strengthened when, on a California movie screen, he saw buxom Soviet film-star Emma Tsesarskaia portraying a heroine of the struggle. Once installed in the USSR, Witkin tells us, he undertook a frenetic campaign to teach the Soviets some modern American methods to build their massive public works (apparently mostly all constructed with Western expertise and equipment). Witkin's tale, loaded with bureaucratic intrigue, is one in which he bests the competition in every confrontation, using threats, appeals to the political police, and reminders of his altruism. But although the author always gets his revenge for having his time wasted and plans ignored, even when it takes articles in Izvestia and snarling threats from Stalin himself, in the end the central planners succeed in reducing him to impotence on the sidelines. Meanwhile, Witkin suddenly meets his ``Dark Goddess,'' the haunting Emma, and by arranging to teach her English and to learn Russian from her, embarks on a transforming passion that he claims the authorities destroyed. (Interviewed in 1989 by editor Gelb, the actress denied any plans to marry Witkin and said she dropped him when she fell in love with another man.) Intriguing for its insider's view of Stalinist bureaucratic hell, but overloaded with the author's implausible self-glory and tedious indignation. (Eight b&w illustrations.)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-520-07134-4
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1991