June 7, 2005


Recklessness and Arrogance: E.J. Graff on Heda Kovaly's Under a Cruel Star and the need for more 'intimate political reportage'. (E.J. Graff, Columbia Journalism Review)

In 1986 my favorite bookseller handed me Under A Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968, telling me I must read it. I did, and I’ve since given copies of it to at least a dozen people and recommended it to dozens more. I can’t be alone in this. Originally published by Helen Epstein, who invented Plunkett Lake Press just to deliver this book, Under A Cruel Star became a word-of-mouth success, garnering praise from such luminaries as Anthony Lewis of The New York Times. In 1989, Penguin brought out an edition in the U.S. and U.K. The book has remained in print ever since.

In Under A Cruel Star, Heda Kovály tells of having escaped Auschwitz during a forced march at the age of fifteen; meeting and later marrying her childhood sweetheart, Rudolf Margolius; seeing him prosecuted and killed in Czechoslovakia’s first Stalinist show trial; and thus of living through two of the most barbaric episodes of a barbaric century. Kovály’s keenly observed, politically astute memoir offers intimate insight into how people behave under totalitarianism, how the human psyche can surrender to absolutism in the pursuit of beautiful ideals, how idealism can result in genuine evil (a noun I use advisedly) — and yet how civilization can restore itself, even after such horror. Under A Cruel Star has helped me think about the motivations and distortions of a vast range of political and social movements — McCarthyism, the Iranian revolution and its aftermath, Al Qaeda, any “radicalism” (left or right), and any movement that claims the word “liberation.” Strangely enough, it has even taught me about the virtues of both skepticism and optimism.

Hard to be more reckless than comparing anti-communism to Islamicism.

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 7, 2005 3:26 PM

The Columbia Journalism Review is the publication that recently revealed that it is basically run by the publisher of the Nation, correct? The same man who, as reported somewhat bemusedly by the NYT in a recent review of his autobiography, refuses to publish anything even hinting that Alger Hiss was anything other than a completely honest man.

Posted by: b at June 7, 2005 4:52 PM


Right you are. And the head of the reporters guild said US soldiers are targeting journalists. And Newsweek with the potty-Koran fable. And so on and so on. Aint it great!

Posted by: Luciferous at June 7, 2005 5:18 PM

Funny thing is that I know a number of Liberals (I live in Vermont, ya know) who will swear up and down that the GOP controls the media. I'm talking *all* the media. TV, newspapers, blogs...Bazooka Joe comics, Hello Kitty fan fiction - I don't know how far the web of conspiracy extends. It's hard to keep a straight face sometimes.

Posted by: Governor Breck at June 7, 2005 9:03 PM