Gillian Slovo’s novel begins and ends in ice. Set in Leningrad, Ice Road follows about half a dozen characters through the decade from the early 1930s to the early 1940s.
Leningrad’s headline story over that period sees the death of one —Sergei Kirov, the city’s Party Leader assassinated in 1934—, followed by the deaths of many in the gathering brutality of Stalin’s purges, before unfurling to the prospective death of all in the genocidal 872 day Siege of Leningrad by the forces of Nazi Germany (1941-1944).
Readers who know even the outline of the Soviet Union’s path are aware of what is coming in the historical narrative as the novel progresses. Less evident, and —to Gillian Slovo’s credit— far less predictable than might be imagined, are the paths of her characters’ lives as they plot their courses through these times.
Part one of this review is here.
Who is The Useful Idiot in John Sweeney’s 2020 thriller set in Stalin’s Soviet Union in 1933?
Although the book’s hero, Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, feels himself —in a moment of passing regret— to have behaved as such, the true useful idiots are those Westerners, diplomats and journalists, who are willingly hoodwinked by dreams of Communism whilst refusing to spread abroad stories of the violence, famine, and death before them.
And chief ‘useful idiot’ of the piece is Walter Duranty.
Part two of this review is here.
The Useful Idiot tells a tumultous tale that entertains amidst the terror of its subject. It is a story of duplicity and dupes.
Set in Stalin’s Soviet Union in the spring of 1933, The Useful Idiot is based on the real life story of a short but significant visit to Moscow and Ukraine by Welsh journalist Gareth Jones (1905-1935).