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Journalist, novelist, poet - Ilya Ehrenburg (1891-1967) was one of the most important Russian cultural figures of the twentieth century. A political exile from czarist Russia, he spent years in Paris as a bohemian poet and later became Izvestia correspondent in Western Europe. He was one of the few distinguished Soviet writers to survive Stalin. Ehrenburg's 1954 novel, The Thaw lent its name to the critical period following Stalin's death. His memoirs People, Years, Life outraged the Kremlin in the sixties for describing a conspiracy of silence that had prevailed under the dictator. In this groundbreaking biography, Joshua Rubenstein tells the story of one of Russia's most controversial and enigmatic figures.
Ehrenburg was a young Bolshevik who turned anti-Communist, then two decades later became a spokesman for Stalin. He was an assimilated Jew who fought anti-Semitism, and a Russian patriot who was both mistrusted by orthodox Communists and denounced by Hitler as his main enemy. As a Jew, he was said to have betrayed his people; as a writer, his talent; as a man, his conscience.
Yet Ehrenburg retained a measure of personal integrity. He helped other writers, including Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, and Boris Pasternak. He battled censorship and championed European art in Moscow. His circle of friends included Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, Diego Rivera, Ernest Hemingway, Isaac Babel, and Andre Malraux.
In vivid detail, Tangled Loyalties draws extensively on new material from Russian archives, from Ehrenburg's private correspondence, and from interviews with scores of family members and friends. The book uncovers the man behind the controversies, whose personal life was as unconventional as the career he fashioned.
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Joshua Rubenstein is the Northeast Regional Director of Amnesty International USA and a fellow at Harvard's Russian Research Center.Review:
. . . succeeds in presenting Ehrenburg's life against a panorama of historic events. It also helps us discern the baffling ironies of Ehrenburg's career. The book's chief value, however, lies in Mr. Rubenstein's deliberate refraining from unequivocal judgment. He clearly means to convey his subject in all his complexity rather than offering wholesale absolution or damnation. -- The Wall Street Journal, April 2, 1996
. . .consistently absorbing . . . The result is a book that brings Ehrenburg vividly to life, even for those who have never read his novels, as well as skillfully illuminating the dark times in which he lived. . . Tangled Loyalties must be of interest to anyone concerned about the troubled relationship between art and politics, both in the last century and in the century about to start. -- Harvard Crimson, May 17, 1996
Tangled Loyalties is a first-class biography. -- Adam Ulam, Professor of History and Political Science, Harvard
A masterpiece of painstaking scholarship. -- Washington Jewish Week, April 11, 1996
But a closer, more informed examination of Ehrenburg's life reveals a determined consistency that the seismic shifts of history have always, in Ehrenburg's case, obscured. Western and Soviet detractors have ignored his acts of independence from Stalin's policies, his anguished response to the Holocaust and lifelong opposition to anti-Semitism, and his importance to millions of Soviet citizens who revered him for trying to sustain Russia's connection to European art and culture. In the confused years after the Bolshevik revolution, in the terrifying quarter century under Stalin, and the breathless, liberating, and ultimately frustrating deade under Khrushchev, Ehrenburg was courageous, at times even outspoken when no one of similar stature dared to voice independent views.
Such a career presents complex dilemmas to a biographer who seeks to understand and explain more than to judge or condemn. Ilya Ehrenburg lived through the greatest calamities of the twentieth century, including World War I, the Bolshevik revolution, the Spanish civil war, Stalin's purges, World War II, and the cold war. He was often on the front lines and virtually everything he wrote made someone angry. Orthodox Marxist critics hated his novels in the 1920s. The Nazis burned his books in the 1930s. His columns against the Germans were so powerful that Hitler blamed Ehrenburg for German military defeats. Then during the cold war Ehrenburg was notorious for his attacks on American culture. A public figure as much as he was a writer and a journalist, Ehrenburg's complicated, calculated, personal decisions came within crisis after crisis in European and Soviet history. He managed to survive, but in spite of his official conformity there was always a feeling about Ehrenburg that he was different. Nadezhda Mandelstam, the widow of the martyred poet Osip Mandelstam, had this in mind when she dubbed him the odd man out among Soviet writers. He was as helpless as everybody else, she recalled about the Stalin years, but at least he tried to do something for others. --
Joshua Rubenstein has written a brilliant analysis and biography of Ilya Ehrenburg, the famous Russian iconoclast and critic. It is a pity that Ehrenburg is not alive to appreciate the quality of this work and the merit which is thus cast on his reputation. -- Harrison Salisbury
The story of a particular man and time, but also a finely drawn portrait of a writer and his conscience under siege in a place where the ill-chosen word could lead to exile or death. -- Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1995.
judicious and enjoyable ... Mr. Rubenstein handles the morality of Ehrenburg's tangled loyalties with intelligent tact, leaving final judgment to ... the people who were there. -- The New York Times Book Review, Richard Lourie
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