and our Through Russ
A Student's Eye View of Eight Days in the USSR
To Conquer a Continent
- By LEWIS ENGMAN
WHEN travelers have visited
- out-of-the-way places they
are especially prone to subject us
to their pronouncements on the
state of affairs abroad. First-
hand accounts are relatively rare
and the visitor to a nation such
as the Soviet Union finds he does
not need to look far for someone
to listen to his tales. It is tempt-
ing to draw general conclusions
from personal experiences. In
view of this, I must say that these
impressions are those of a stu-
dent who is neither a Russian ex-
pert nor impartial in his opinions
of the Soviet regime.
I entered the Soviet Union with
a group of fifteen. The eight-dayI
tour was sponsored by a Scandin-I
avian student travel agency. In
addition to the guides provided by
Soviet Intourist, we were fortu-
nate in having with us a Dane
who spoke fluent Russian.
The Soviet visas were explicit:
our time was to be divided equally
between Leningrad and Moscow.
We would also be allowed to get'
off the train at Viborg - a twen-
Despite Low Living Standards,
A Promise of 'Big Brother'
ty minute station stop near the
Finnish border. These details
filled two full pages of my pass-
Our supposedly third-class ac-
comodations on the Russian train
running between Helsinki and
Leningrad were quaint bpt sur-
prisingly good. During imuch of
the trip the doors of the car were
locked. Although there was no
feverish examination of our lug-.
gage, we were amused by the offi-
cers who kept coming through
looking under the seats.
Leningrad *. .
IN LENINGRAD we were greeted
by the outstretched arms of a
gigantic statue of Lenin as~well as
a pudgy, balding representative of
Intourist. Then, although it was.
1:30 a.m., we were .given a buffet
dinner at the hotel. The Russians
seemed determined to impress us!
Our tour had been planned
elaborately, even including such
items as a visit to the "First State
Ball Bearing Factory" and a con-
cert by the "Rumanian State Jazz
Band." It can't be denied that the
Soviet Union has many cultural
attractions, some of which date
back to the Czarist period. The
Ermitage, which has beenCpre-
served and added to by the Com-
munists, houses one of the best
collections of Western art in the
By accompanying the group oc-'
casionally and "getting lost" the
rest of the time, I tried to strike
a balance between seeing muse-
ums and seeing the people. Al-
though we couldn't go too far out-
side the city (Intourist generously
had offered to hold our pass-
ports), the possibilities of walk-
ing down aide streets and through
residential districts were nearly
There was evidence of the re-
-cent Youth Festival everywhere.
One candid Russian student told
us that many of the more impor-
tant buildings had been re-
painted especially for that event.
Banners and cut-outs of peace
doves were stilC evident - eyen
on the grills of the army trucks.
HAD NOT realized how com-
pletely the Soviet Union im-
plements its policy of equality be-
tween the sexes. Although news-
paper accounts had prepared me
for the sight of old women sweep-
ing the streets, it was hard to ov-
ercome the initial shock of seeing
women loading asphalt on trucks,
and mixing and laying cement on
contruction jobs without such
Western luxuries as a wheelbar-
row. It must be admitted, how-
ever, that some of them, including
the women working with pneu-
matic air hammers, were well-
suited physically for their jobs.
The most striking thing about
the Russian people was their gen-
eral eagerness to talk with us.
Foreigners, especially Americans.
seemed to 'be a great curiosity. In
the evenings, groups of Russians
of all ages, would gather in front
of the hotels which accommodated
foreigners. Often they would give
us small ,pins depicting Lenin, a.
peace dove, or some other appro-
priate symbol. The low denomina-
tion foreign coins or autographs
which 'we gave in return were
then proudly shown for the others
Russians who could speak Eng-
glish acted as interpreters. The
question of these "hotel entrance"
crowds were nearly always the
same. "Do you like rock and roll?"
(They were surprised that I did
not.) Another type of -question
almost endless variations concern-
ed our knowledge of Russian life.
"What Russian writers (musi-
cians, painters, etc.) do you
know?" Occasionally we were
asked about the life of Negroes in
America, although in.August Lit-
tle Rock was not yet known inter-
More penetrating expressions of
opinion could be obtained by ar-
ranging to meet individuals more
than once. In these meetings a.
wide range of viewpoints were
heard. Surprisingly, most of the
opposition to the government
came from the younger people-
students who had been born after
the revolution and who had known
no other way of life.
VOSS. By Patrick White. New
York, 1957: Viking Press,
422 pp. $5.
By ROY AKERS
IN HIS fourth and very' beautiful
nov.el The Tree of Man, publishgd
just two years ago, the Australian
writer Patrick White gave us the
saga of a man who tamed and
learned to live with a wilderness.
The recent publication of Voss,
Mr. White's fifth and equally solid
literary work, plays upon the same:
theme, but with a major variation.
The plodding, almost gentle Stan
Parker of The Tree of Man, and
the egocentric Johann Ulrich Voss
are personalities'of a strikingly
different emotional, fiber. Stan
Parker's was the natural bent that
learned to survive the lonely dan-
gers of a wilderness'environment.
Johann Voss's temperament is of
the fiery kind that had a need, but
not the patience, to conquer a'
Always, in the known history of
-the human creature, .there have
been men who cared enough to
look behind the trees and beyond
the hills. This fascination with the
mysteries beyond the hinterland is
one of the necessary facets in the
make-up of an explorer's inquisi-
tive mind. Beyond and above this,
though, there are the more overt
and obvious factors that give an
explorer his incentive to seek out.
and map one more fragment of
the great earth's surface.
Some of them continue the search
for money;and others for land. It
might be for the love of 4 woman.
Or it could be from the mundane
irritation of itching heels. But
Johann Ulrich Voss did not ven-.
ture into the sandy desert of the
outback of Australia for any' of
these reasons. Voss was the classic
"loner," and the 'only desires he.
sought to satisfy were purely and
quite simply his own.
precision. He is, obviously, a stu-
dent of the human race, and not
its savior. And the reader cannot
leave a White book without experi-
encing the feeling that, behind the
pen, there remains a writer who
has that rarest kind of love for
his fellow creatures-the magnifi-
cence of compassion devoid of the.
sloppy condecension of pity.
There is, in the book called Voss,
one of the strangest love affairs
since James Jones's From Here To
Eternity. It is a love not consum-
mated, a romance but hardly felt.
Patrick White explains Laura
Trevelyan in the following' brief,
sentence: "She was the expert
mistress of trivialities." But, some-
where, beneath the quiet, exterior
beauty of this lonely Sydney girl,
the restless being ,of Johann Voss
sensed something it had never
found before-the attraotion that
pulls an introverted mind out of
itself to communicate with another
human being. This, in all of the
groping, emotional blindnessof his
miserable life, was the closest that
Voss ever came to the two intan-
gibles most devoid of selfishness-
the ability to give andhto, receive.
Laura Trevelyan had finally
found someone and something in
which to believe. She.knew Voss as
Voss could never know himself. He
was a man who ,didn't even care
enough about the human race
either to love or to hate it. Clear
to her was the Quixotic disparity
in the values that formed the
man's relationship with other men.
Johann Mosswould never want or
treasure people's respect simply
because-to him it had t no
value. Yet, at the same time, he
would willingly and gladly risk his
Roy Akers has appeared often
as a Daily literary reviewer and
essayist. A widely-read student
of contemporary literature, he
has particular .enthusiasm for
author White, whose "Tree of
Man" he reviewed in these pages
life for that most elusive and
fragilecof all human tributes- the
thing called fame. Voss was fully
aware that, by conquering a conti-
nent, he could conquer himself.
And, to an explorer, when he has
coped with a continent and won,
he has also, in a very real sense,
made his conquest of the world
and its people.
BUT WHAT Voss and Laural
sensed most in each other was
their mutual respect for the land.
People, they knew, would come
from dust and return to clay. The
green earth, and only that,'would
-for all time-remain. both of!
them believed enough in. the dust
on which they walked to stake
their chances for immortality on
They shared a common con-
tempt for the urbanite who looked
upon the earth not as a lovely and
spacious room in which to live but,
rather, as a merecommodity to be
exploited in the, market place. To
Johann Voss and Laura Trevelyan
God's great earth would have been
theirs, and not God's. But they-
unlike most people --.would have,
used it for its original purpose.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of
all in the novel Voss is simply this:
that Voss and Laura-unlike Adam
and Eve-never even had their
In many homes this winter
people will be sitting by warm fires
reading the novel, called Voss. To
'those who have never read Patrick
White before lies the pleasant ex-
perience of discovering an already
great young writer still 'on the way
up. And, to both those who have
and have not previously read his
prose, there remains the experi-
ence of becoming acquainted with
a truly remarkable fictional char-
acter. Johann Ulrich Voss reached
desperately for the heart and never
found love. He groped vainly, for
happiness without attaining the
elusive thing called peace. But he
will be remembered in the reader's
mind long after the reading of the
book he inhabits has been for-
of Georg j
It's the M
THE strongest opponent of the
Communist regime with whom
I talked was a student I met one
evening while walking across Red
Square. At first distrustful, 'he
became amazingly free in his de-:
nunciation of the fundamentals
of the Communist system. Yet
caution was still of prime impor
tance. When I' met him for the
second and third times, he was
'wearing clothing more closely re-
sembling Western styles. He spoke
brokenly to other Russians, using
an accent which made him sound
Unlike several, he considered
Khrushchev to be as bad as Stal-
in; the only reason Khrushchev
appeared to be better was that
he had not yet consolidated his
position. This student owned a-
short-wave radio 'and hAd heard
"the truth abolt Hungary" from
BBC broadcasts. He was proud of
the ingenious methods he had
used to disseminate this informa-
tion to his friends at the Univer-
sity of Moscow.
To him, however, the' long-.rui
view was one of pessimism. "Sure,
some of us know what is going on.
Then there are those who reallye
seem to believe in the govern-
ment, but most of the people just
Another student "rebel" told
me he was a member of a Kom-
somol. (youth groups supervised by
the Party). Although he spoke to
me much more guardedly, his
general attitude was one of cyni-
cism. By showing an interest in
Communism, he hoped there
would be less of a chance he would
"end up sweeping streets.".
It was not herd _to find loyal
,students, however. In Leningrad
MR. WHITE'S novel is a playoff
on - though not a historical
account of - the misadventures of
a Prussian, Ludwig Leichhardt, who
became lost' and presumably died
while trying to cross the Australian
desert in 1848. But, more than all
the so-called historical 'documents
of the Leichhardt legend, this fab-
ricated, fictional versionmay come
to remain as the truest and, cer-
tainly, the most interesting one of
the stories. Since most of the facts
are not known anyway, who is to.
say that an artist of the stature of
Mr. White might not re-create and'
paint them with validity?
And, who but Mr. White could
explain the inner workings of a
man like Voss -Leichhardt's fic-
tional counterpart-in better
prose than that which follows:
"Have you walked upon the
bottom of the sea, Mr. Pringle?"
The German (Voss) asked.
"Eh?" Said Mr. Pringle. "No."
His eyes, however, had swum
into unaccustomed depths.
"I have not," said Voss. "Ex-
cept in dreams, of course. That
is why I am fascina'ted by the
prospect before me. Even if the
future of the great areas of sand
is a purely metaphysical one."
Then he threw up a little peb-
ble, which had been changing
colour in his hand, turning from
pale'- lavender to purple, and
aught it before it reached the
This, indeed, was the great trag-
edy of Johann Ulrich Voss. He
always caught his pebbles before
they hit the sun. He was the
blindest of visionaries. Both sun-
light and starlig'ht dimmed his
perspective. And Mr. White's book
may become, in time, a classic
study of the truly introverted
PATRICK WHITE is a literary,j
desires the best] an
than average loaf
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