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Constantin ROMAN – Book Review: Orwell behind the Iron Curtain

February 26th, 2016 · No Comments · Books, Communist Prisons, Diary, Famous People, History, International Media, OPINION, PEOPLE, quotations, Reviews

Constantin ROMAN – Book Review: Orwell behind the Iron Curtain

Orwell's Diaries in Samizdat (Romania)

Orwell’s Diaries in Samizdat (Romania)

I bought Orwell’s Diaries thinking that I could glean more information about his philosophical conversion from Spanish Republicanism to what had become later a lucid critic of left-wing dictatorship. It appears, sadly that two notebooks of diaries covering the Spanish Civil War have made their way into the archives of the NKVD (The Soviet Secret police) and are under lock and key to this day.
Clearly even after his demise Orwell’s writings are considered by some still seditious.

I came across the works of Orwell, oddly enough behind the Iron Curtain in Romania, as a teenager enduring the harsh neo-Stalinist dictatorship of Gheorghiu-Dej, the national-communist predecessor of Nicolae Ceausescu.

Orwell "1984" This was no mean feat and a curious one at that: The classic '1984

Orwell “1984” novel in Samizdat

ORWELL’s book was translated in french and serialised by the French weekly “Paris Match”. During the Cold War “Paris Match”, like all Western publications, was embargoed in Romania, under severe censorship restrictions. However, by a miracle, my private French teacher in Bucharest, had access to Orwell’s Diaries. This lady was Margot EFTIMIU, daughter of Matei Draghiceanu (1844-1939) and a Fellow of the Romanian Academy. Margot had a former servant who was a cleaner-maid at the French Embassy in Bucharest and, without doubt, a secret service agent. This woman, who was barely literate, spoke no french and brought home these magazines merely because she found the illustrations attractive. Margot, my private French language teacher, was a cultivated lady from the former Romanian aristocracy, educated at Vevay, at a ladies boarding school in Switzerland and fell on hard times after being expropriated by the Communist regime. She borrowed these magazines and transcribed by hand the whole of Orwell’s 1984 novel – no mean feat and a labor of love. I had the privilege of being lent these notebooks when I was just 15 years of age, and found the reading fascinating. As a teenager, during the dire Stalinist years I identified myself perfectly well with the character of Orwell’s book and with the whole atmosphere described by the author, as one which we were experiencing in Romania under a communist dictatorship.
Father, upon discovering my “illicit” reading begged of me to return the manuscript forthwith because had we been denounced and found out, or if for any reason our house was searched we would have ended up in prison for reading “seditious literature”!
Romania queuing for food under Communism: everything was exported to the Soviet Union for peanuts

Romania queuing for food under Communism: everything was exported to the Soviet Union for peanuts

In retrospect I still think that hardly any Western author, and more so after the WWII, had the clear vision comparable to that of George Orwell, especially when considering those fellow-travelers and assorted “useful idiots”, who were eulogising the Soviet dictatorship, in spite of irrefutable evidence to the contrary.

This edition of Diaries shed a fresh light on George Orwell, on his private life, as much as on his national and international political observations. They are replete with useful details for the historian, political analyst, or academic, but not only – as it offers a fresh angle on the troubled History of Europe for nearly two decades of the 1930s and 1940s. There are nuggets of information which explain better the rationale behind our fathers and grandfathers political options, than what we were conditioned to believe from school books or “politically correct” textbooks: all in all – a riveting read which I strongly recommend.

NOTE: This review is from: Diaries 1931- 1949 (sourced from ten original diary notebooks)
Edited by Peter Davison, Publ: Harvil Secker
ISBN 9781846553295

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