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Stalin's Apologist: Walter Duranty: The New York Times's Man in Moscow Hardcover – March 29, 1990
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Top Customer Reviews
During the sixties, as a University student, I happened to know one of Duranty's heirs in the NYT Moscow bureau. It was Mr. Seymour Topping - by the way, years later he became the Pulitzer Committee chief. Thanks to this stealthy and adventurous acquaintance (ah, my last-moment escapes from KGB surveillance, our silent writings of quick notes in his bugged apartment etc!) my home was enriched by many wonderful books, and I was enriched by the general picture of a Western correspondent's work behind the Iron Curtain. They could print their real feelings no more than we could – that is, it was possible theoretically, but with a practical cross on their next visa into the USSR. Hence, their editors-in-chiefs, even if they weren't exactly pro-Kremlin, never supported honest reporting from Russia: first, it was too troublesome in purely bureaucratic sense (frequent personnel changes), second, it was too disharmonic in the sense of the ever-fashionable "peaceful coexistence". Some able correspondents were producing genuine masterpieces of Aesopian language, others were just storing their experiences to be printed later in a book form, after leaving Moscow forever.
As I now understand, Mr. Topping was probably left-leaning in his world-view, but nevertheless, I remember him as a sincere, shrewd and extremely hard-working journalist, always attentive even to my naïve opinions. He was never condescending, never full of some secret knowledge, never super-manish, – in other words, he wasn't Mr. Duranty at all. That's why I was happy to hear Seymour's voice again during my last US visit some fifty years later. I am not so sure about Duranty's company: be they Russians or Westerners, they would be hardly eager to meet him again in this century…
For me this thrilling book is a timely reincarnation of Mr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story, clearly showing how powerful the magnet of Communism is for the accelerated transformation of any power-attracted Jekyll into a horrible Hyde. If Duranty would stay in the West, his Hyde qualities would be probably limited to his close circle only, but Stalin gifted him a unique chance to feel himself a majestic hedonist guru amidst the huge death camp – and that was a sure end for Jekyll. I'd like to compare Mrs. Taylor's work with a possibility to look through a crystal-clear window into our world's recent past, into Stalin's vile utopia and, the main thing, into a dark process of the popular myths' birth.
Very grateful Rostislav, Saint-Petersburg, Russia.
The author fails to frame clearly Duranty's worst sins, but shows her contempt is off-handed asides. She also tells some stories in confusing temporal context. She does a good job of showing the international support for Stalin and socialism.
I end up actually feeling sympathy for Duranty. Half of his contemporary intellectual world was yearning for socialism (as today) to tell the world what to do by its vain, Godless brilliance. Duranty got himself caught in a spotlight and became a whipping boy to carry the guilt that many deserved.
In covering for failing socialism, is he not sustained by the Paul Krugmans and Obamaphilic media of today?
All that said, while well written, the book's subject matter was for the most part boring. Duranty was not by any stretch a man to be admired, but I also don't know if he earned an entire book written about his apologist exploits on behalf of Stalin.
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