Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Fight Over Literature: My Washington Times Review Of 'Cold Warriors: Writers Who Waged The Literary Cold War'

The Washington Times published my review of Cold Warriors: Writers Who Waged the Literary Cold War.

When one thinks of the Cold War — the era when the two world superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, were adversaries from the end of World War II in 1945 to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 — perhaps one thinks of Checkpoint Charlie at the Berlin Wall, spy vs. spy dramas, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the arms race or Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev stating, “We will bury you.”

But in addition to the conflict between spies, soldiers and statesmen, there was another conflict that took place during the Cold War: The fight over literature.

“Between February and May 1955, a group secretly funded by the Central Intelligence Agency launched a secret weapon into Communist territory. Gathering at launch sites in West Germany, operatives inflated 10-foot balloons, armed them their payload, waited for favorable winds and launched them into Poland.

“They then watched as the balloons were carried deep behind the Iron Curtain, where they would eventually disgorge their contents. These, though, were not explosives or incendiary weapons: they were books,” Duncan White writes in the opening of his book, “Cold Warriors: Writers Who Waged the Literary Cold War.”

“At the height of the Cold War, the CIA made copies of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” rain down from the Communist sky.”

“Cold Warriors is the story of the writers who dealt with the consequences of having literature become a Cold War battleground. 

… Authors around the world were involved in the Cold War conflict, Mr. White explains. “They led double lives as spies, volunteered in foreign wars, engaged in guerrilla insurgencies, churned out propaganda, exposed official hypocrisy, and risked their lives to write books that defied the Cold War consensus.”

Mr. White calls his book a group biography that traces the interconnected lives and works of writers on both sides of the Iron Curtain. And the cast of characters is impressive: Graham Greene, John le Carre, Stephen Spender, Ernest Hemingway and others. Some of the writers were leftists whom the Soviets called “useful idiots,” while others, like George Orwell, condemned the Soviet Union’s evil empire.

Mr. White also covers the courageous Russian writers, like Boris Pasternak and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who defied the all-powerful Soviet regime to write great literature that did not conform with Soviet ideas. The book also covers British spy and traitor Kim Philby, who didn’t write fiction, Mr. White says, he lived it.

I was surprised that the book did not cover thriller writer Ian Fleming more. As a young reporter for Reuters in 1933, he covered the Metro-Vickers espionage trial of British engineers in the Soviet Union. Later, after serving as a naval intelligence officer in World War II, he became the London Sunday Times’ foreign manager and several of his foreign correspondents also reported to British intelligence. And in addition to taking on international criminals, Ian Fleming’s James Bond character battled Soviet spies and assassins. For many readers, James Bond was the ultimate fictional Cold Warrior.

You can read the rest of the review via the below link: 

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