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A vivid and important tale

Posted by A. Shurcliff on September 28, 2000 at 16:59:08:

This account has a Kafkaesque quality of the rational man facing a totally irrational situation, trying to find meaning where there is no meaning, trying to seek understanding where there is no understanding. What is most vivid about Hermann Field's writing is his ability to convey a sense of immediacy. He brings us right into his prison cell with him. We share his bafflement about where he is, why he is there, and why interrogator "Cigarette" asks the questions he does.
We also share his heightened sense of awareness of the minute details of his cell, from the number of pieces of straw on his mattress to the tiny friends he makes in his cell, beginning with the spider and continuing with the mice. We share his sense of grief and sorrow as the mice are brutally killed by the prison guards.
Perhaps most striking is the immediacy he brings to the endless hours of interrogation. He allows us to feel his bafflement as his interrogators use every known technique to try to get him to confess. But confess to what? Surely there has been some giant mistake -- have they got the wrong man? Are we all lost in a world of delusion? He conveys a wonderful and dry sense of humor when he relates how his chief interrogator asks him, "What are you, actually?" He replies, "Well, surely you know that I am an architect." "'-- You're quite sure? Planning to build skyscrapers? Not perhaps an archaeologist instead?' He gave a chuckle and looked at me as if we had a good mutual joke. His amusement had again spread to me."
The excesses of Stalin are of course well known. What Hermann Field's book does, which I have not seen before, is to provide us with such a vivid account of the ripple effect of Stalin's monomaniacal desire to obliterate all enemies throughout the Soviet empire and the Soviet puppet states.
I think this book is an enormously important contribution to our understanding of Stalinism and the Cold War. I have never come across a more enthralling account. Adding to the poignancy of the book is Kate Field's account of her bafflement at Hermann's mysterious disappearance and her ongoing struggle to search for clues as to whether he was alive or dead, and ultimately to bring him home.

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