Category: Communism

Zou Jingzhi: 九栋 (Ninth Building)

The latest addition to my website is Zou Jingzhi‘s 九栋 (Ninth Building). This is an account by Zou Jingzhi of his life in China during the Cultural Revolution. We first meet him as a boy in 1966 when he and his friends form a Red Guard unit. In some respects they behave (and misbehave) like normal boys but, at the same time, they are rooting out class enemies, including their parents when appropriate, and regularly see older people physically abused and also see several dead bodies. As an educated person – his father is already imprisoned in a cowshed – Zou is sent to the Great Northern Waste where, for eight years, he has to carry out arduous agricultural work. Getting transferred, illness or injury (real or fake) and death are the three ways out. Zou survives and returns to Beijng to make a career as a writer. Though there are other works set in the Cultural Revolution, this one focusses on the life of an ordinary person and how he survives.

Jana Bodnárová: Náhrdelník/Obojok (Necklace/Choker)

The latest addition to my website is Jana Bodnárová‘s Náhrdelník/Obojok (Necklace/Choker). This novel tells the stories of two Slovak women – Sara and Iboja – who meet in their hometown after Slovak independence in the late twentieth century. Their stories and the stories of their families are the stories of Slovakia as we follow them and their families from the 1930s to the post-independence era. Both came from well-to-do families but suffered from the Holocaust, the war, exile (Sara is in Germany, Iboja’s mother and father went to France while she stayed behind with her grandparents). Both families suffered bitterly under communism with Sara’s father, a painter whose paintings were not approved, going to an early grave and Iboja’s grandfather being arrested for being a bourgeois parasite. Bodnárová shows how much the area has lost, something that can never be regained, while the two women – aged fifty-five and seventy respectively – can only look back with sadness.

Ana Schnabl: Mojstrovina (The Masterpiece)

The latest addition to my website is Ana Schnabl‘s Mojstrovina (The Masterpiece). The novel is set primarily in 1985, five years after Tito’s death but with Slovenia still part of Yugoslavia and the communists in control. Adam, a university lecturer, has written a novel (called Masterpiece) which he has submitted to Ana, an editor at a major Slovenian publisher. She has obtained her position by agreeing to spy on potential dissidents for Sofia and Vitomil, a married couple working for the secret police. They now want her to spy on Adam but she and Adm (both married with children) start an affair. How will the novel, Sofia and Vitomil and, indeed the respective spouses affect the affair? Schnabl tells a superb story about a love affair made complicated, analysing it psychologically in some depth and also the complications the novel and Sofa and Vitomil bring to the situation.

Zsuzsa Selyem: Moszkvában esik (It’s Raining in Moscow)

The latest addition to my website is Zsuzsa Selyem‘s Moszkvában esik (It’s Raining in Moscow). This is a series of interrelated stories concerning the Beczásy family, who were driven out of Armenia and settled in what was then Hungary, but in the last century changed hands three times and is now in Romania. Aided by various animals, who comment on both events and human foibles, we follow in particular the story of István Beczásy from his sexual initiation as a young man to the age of ninety-seven when he dictates his memories to his granddaughter. In particular, he and his family are driven out as enemies of people and settled in remote Romania. He is arrested and tortured but survives. Selyem does not hold back her hatred of the communist regimes and clearly has a strong affection for István, despite his faults, a man who loves plants and the land.

Edward Upward: The Rotten Elements

The latest addition to my website is Edward Upward‘s The Rotten Elements, the second in his Spiral Ascent Trilogy, about communism in Britain in the middle of the last century. This one follows several years after the first one and starts some time after World War II. Alan and Elsie Sebrill are married with two children and committed members of the Communist Party. However, they feel that the British party is moving away from true Leninist doctrine – the need for a violent revolution to overthrow capitalism and imperialism and not compromising with social democrat parties (i.e. the governing Labour Party in Britain) – and they raise this quite vocally. Not surprisingly, they are met with considerable opposition and things do not go well for them in the Party. The book does get into what might seem to us areas of arcane doctrinal differences but it still remains a worthwhile novel and is an interesting read.

Edward Upward: In the Thirties

The latest addition to my website is Edward Upward‘s In the Thirties, the first book in his The Spiral Ascent trilogy, his best-known work. We follow the story of Alan Sebrill, in the 1930s. Sebrill, like Upward on whom he is clearly based, is a committed Communist. At the beginning of the book, he is determined to write poetry but struggles with it, feeling that it is perhaps not committed enough. After something of an epiphany, he realises he must commit himself more to the political struggle. He returns to London, where he gets a job as a teacher (a job he does not particularly relish) and joins the Communist Party. We follow the struggles of the Party, both with the problems of the Depression and, in the latter part of the book, the rise of Fascism, including the activities of the Fascists in England. Their views (almost uncritical support of the Soviet Union and Stalin) seem very naive. However, following Alan’s political (and romantic) development make the book an enjoyable read.

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