Monday, February 05, 2007

"Anti-Sovietchik No. 1"*

Must-read Christopher Hitchens in the, about historian Robert Conquest, documenter of the Soviet Union's evils, who lived to see its collapse:

I thought I would just check and see how he was doing as 2007 dawned. When I called, he was dividing his time between an exercise bicycle and the latest revision of his classic book "The Great Terror": the volume that tore the mask away from Stalinism before most people had even heard of Solzhenitsyn. Its 40th anniversary falls next year, and the publishers need the third edition in a hurry. Had it needed much of an update? "Well, it's been a bit of a slog. I had to read about 30 or 40 books in Russian and other languages, and about 400 articles in journals and things like that. But even so I found I didn't have to change it all that much."

I am reminded of this anecdote from Martin Amis's short 2002 book Koba the Dread: When Conquest was asked in the post-Gorbachev years to give a new title to a revised edition of "The Great Terror," he said to his publisher, "How about 'I Told You So, You Fucking Fools'?"

* From Hitchens's piece:

Is it sweet to be so vindicated? As always, I have to crane slightly to hear the whispery answer. "There was a magazine in Russia called Neva, which found its circulation went up from 100,000 to a million when it serialized 'The Great Terror.' And I later found that at the very last plenum of the Soviet Communist Party, just before the U.S.S.R. dissolved, a Stalinist hack called Alexander Chakovsky had described me as 'anti-Sovietchik No. 1.' I must say I was rather proud of that."

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