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Orwell behind the Iron Curtain
on 11 March 2012
Edited by Peter Davison, Publ: Harvil Secker
1931- 1949 (sourced from ten original diary notebooks)
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.
This was no mean feat and a curious one at that: The classic '1984" Novel was translated in French and serialised in the popular French weekly "Paris Match" which was embargoed in Romania, under severe censorship restrictions. However, by a miracle, my private French teacher in Bucharest 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. My French teacher, a cultivated lady from the former Romanian aristocracy, who was educated in Switzerland and fell on hard times after being expropriated, borrowed these magazines and transcribed by hand the whole of Orwell's 1984 novel. I had the privilege of being lent these notebooks and found the reading fascinating, more so as I identified myself perfectly with the character in this book and the whole atmosphere described by the author as one which we were experiencing in Romania under a communist dictatorship.
My father upon discovering my illicit reading begged of me to return the manuscript forthwith because if we were denounced and found out, or if for any reason our house was searched we would be put in prison for reading Orwell.
In retrospect I still think that hardly any Western author and more so after the WWII had had the clear vision comparable to that of George Orwell, especially when one would think of those fellow-travelers and assorted "useful idiots" who were eulogising the Soviet dictatorship, in spite of irrefutable evidence to the contrary.
This edition of the 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 recommend.