July 01, 2021

Spies and Artists

Spies and Artists

“In Russia,” Yevgeny Yevtushenko said in the 1960s, “a poet is more than a poet.”

In a similar fashion, during the Cold War, writers were far more than writers. The great ideological war that raged for much of the twentieth century required not just politicians to choose sides, but artists and intellectuals as well. Some stood on principle, others actually fought and died on battlefields for their principles, while some were blacklisted, exiled, or exterminated for having politically incorrect beliefs. Still others were bare opportunists, using the conflict as a tool to further their art, career, or reputation.

In this weighty (782 pages) tome, White sets himself a very broad-ranging goal: to tell the story of writers “who dealt with the consequences of having literature become a Cold War battleground.” And so the work begins in the late 1930s, with George Orwell and the Spanish Civil War, and ends in the early 1990s, with le Carré, Solzhenitsyn, and Graham Greene. In between there are countless illuminating episodes on everything from the Cambridge Five to Paul Robeson, from Kim Philby to Sinyavsky and Daniel, from Akhmatova to Hemingway.

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