Page 4-Sunday, October 9, 1977--The Michigan Daily
The Michigan Daily-Sunda
The Soviet anddissidents: Two
Mitford's kitchen tales
of the Communist Party
By Cynthia Hill
Kopelev on the
By Stephen Hersh
A FINE OLD CONFLICT
By Jessica Mitford
Alfred A. Knopf, 333 pp., $10
IF YOU'RE GOING to read A Fine Old
Conflict, Jessica Mitford's memoir of
her life in the Communist Party, do yourself
a big favor: skim lightly oyer the first-70
For in these 70 pages, you will be regaled
with cute anecdotes about the Mitford
children; stories about how Bob Treuhaft
met, wooed, and married Mitford; and the
early mispronunciations and thumb-sucking
habits of "Dinky," Mitford's daughter.
After several chapters of this, I was
phoning friends to warn them away from
this book, and .collaring strangers on the
street to denounce Jessica Mitford as the
most trivial person on paper since Austen's
It does get better. Really. But it never gets
as good as it was cracked up to be: the San
Francisco Chronicle called it "something
rare and special," noted commentator
Shana Alexander called it her "favorite
book in years," and Publishers' Weekly
called it "a serious and important book."
It is none of these things. It is an in-
Cynthia Hill is a former Daily editor.
teresting and highly entertaining book, but
it is also a very limited book.
Mitford's work, almost unintentionally,
outlines the vicissitudes of the American
Communist Party in this century. More
deliberately, it is a first-hand account of the
author's personal involvement in the Willie
McGee rape trial of 1951, the House Com-
mittee on Un-American Activities hearings,
and left-wing activities of the era. If, like
Candide, you tend to believe we live in "Ia-
meilleur monde possible" despite over-
whelming evidence to the contrary, these
accounts could be eye-openers. But for those
already deeply familiar with the history of
injustice in the United States, Mitford's
recounting will probably seem impercep-
tive, superficial, and a trifle dull.
While Mitford's personal experience pro-
vides the strength of this book, it is also
its weakeness. She never quite rises above
the "me" in this book, and has a terrible'
tendency to trivialize. As often as not, the
Communist Party sounds like the Elks'
Club, and a description of a fellow party
member's activity will be'accompainied by
a description of what darling hats she wore,
or the games he played with daughter Dinky.
See MITFORD, Page 8
TO BE PRESERVED FOREVER
By Lev Kopelev
Philadelphia and New York:
Visit the 'Lettuce
By Tom O'Connell
W HEN IN 1956 Nikita Khruschev dis-
closed and denounced some of the
crimes of the Stalin regime in his address to
the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Com-
munisty Party, many Communists in the
West-for example, Jean-Paul Sartre and
Jessica Mitford-quit the party, feeling that
for the first time they truly understood the
ideology to which they had hitherto been
loyal. Khruschev's revelations-shocked not
only party members -but people of all
political persuasions, whose images of life
in the Soviet Union were more favorable
than the reality.
By simply tearing up their party cards,
Western Communists could wash their han-
ds of Stalinism and all its effect (all, that is,
except for that related phenomenon, Mc-
Carthyism). But things were tougher for
people like Lev Kopelev-Soviet citizens,
also disillusioned with Stalinism, who were
stuck with a homeland which bore the scars
of a generation of harsh authoritarianism.
To Be Preserved Forever is the story of
how Kopelev came to reject Stalinism,
through his experience as a victim of the
Soviet criminal justice system. Kopelev
began his prison odyssey shortly after the
end of World War II; he was one of the many
members of the Red Army who were caught
up in the works of the Stalinist criminal
justice system en route from the battle on"
the German front. He was denounced and
arrested as an anti-Soviet, for speaking out
against the rape, murder, looting, and
destruction of property which accom-
panied the Russian advance into-Germany
at the close of the war.
The book focuses on Kopelev's arrest and
prosecution. It is not another Gulag Ar-
chipelago-it is not an exhaustive, weighty
account of the history and anatomy of the,
whole Soviet penal system. Rather, it is one
man's story. It is a condemnation of the in-
justice of false accusations against
Kopelev-accusations motivated mostly by
the personal vindictiveness of the accusers.
And more importantly, it is a condemnation
of the injustice of a Kafkaesque judicial
system which accorded all the weight of
truth to the obviously false charges.
At the time of Kopelev's arrest, the Soviet
criminal justice system churned out a con-
stant flow of fresh convicts-whether they
were actually guilty or not did not matter
with Stalinist justice. The mass arrests
filled the need perceived by the Soviet
government to scare the populace away
from committing acts of disloyalty, and
provided a supply of prisoner-laborers.
Stephen Hersh is a former Daily editor..
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r F' ' t 4
AN ECCENTRIC GUIDE TO THE
By James Dale Davidson
495 pp. $4.95
ALL TOO FREQUENTLY I find myself
at the receiving end of-diatribes de-
livered by acquaintances recently returned
from Europe, who find it necessary to bore
one at great length with lectures bemoaning
the vast gap in culture and sophistication
that allegedly exists between ourselves and
our Continental brethren.'But sophistication
is relative and culture often tedious; I recall
spending a day in the Prado in Madrid and
feeling rather numbed by the hundreds of
Renaissance masterpieces, all depicting
what seemed to be the same overweight
virgin. Oh well. -
I feel more comfortable appreciating
what is unique or simply bizarre in life, and
now James Dale Davidson has produced a
bible for all patriotric armchair-travelers
:. no feel the same way. With An Eccentric
Guide to -the United States Davidson
celebrates the icleosyncrasies of the
American as his appealing, tongue-in-cheek
narrative takes us on a journey across the
country and down the road of popular-
culture, leaving good taste and conformity
ignominiously trampled in the dust.,V
The collector's passion figures prominen-
tly in Davidson's guide. There is, for exam-
ple, a farmer in Oxford, Pa. who has ac-.
cumulated the world's largest collection of
Edsels, probably the most ill-fated car
model of all time. He literally has dozens of
them strewn about his property. And then
there is a fellow in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.,
who had decorated his fence, backyard and
trees with hundreds of automobile hubcaps.
The first, largest and most unusual of just
about everything is included as well:
America's first subscription air raid shelter
(mail in $100.00 and reserve space for your
family), the world's largest ball of string,
(and the second largest as well), the world's
largest tire (right here in Michigan, by I-94
on the way to Detroit), the burial grounds of
J. Edgar Hoover's eight dogs, and the only
town in the-World where it is illegal to kill a
butterfly-all of these objects and places
receive deserved (?) mention. Davidson-
also dispenses handy, everyday advice, like
where to go to bullet-proof your car, to look
for flying saucers, to avoid being mugged,
or to breathe America's cleanest air (the
Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho).
Architecture is another of the author's
many and varied in t e r e s t s: There
is a hotel for bats, yes, bats, on Sugarloaf
Key in Florida, with accommodations for a
thousand. The bats were supposed to devour
the .local mosquito population, but unfor-
tunately they never moved in. Dr. Tinker-
paw's Trash Castle in Cambria, Calif. is a
sizable structure made entirely from
discarded bottles, wheels, toys, crates and
other junk. And then there's--oh, hell, just
go pick up the book and read it yourself. How
else will you discover the location of
America's only Genuine Imported Hindu
Tom O'Connell is Associate Editor of
the Sunday Magazine.
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