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4.0 out of 5 stars Hill of Cambridge, 13 Aug. 2011
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This review is from: In the Mind's Eye: The Memoirs of Dame Elizabeth Hill (Hardcover)
Born in 1900 in St Petersburg, Elizabeth Hill grew up to be fluent in four languages. Overcoming obstacle after obstacle (the family fortune was lost in the October Revolution of 1917), she secured appointment to be head of Slavic languages at Cambridge University in the UK. After World War II came the Cold War and the urgent need of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force for interpreters in Russian, at least two hundred of them. The brightest students were sought out, grouped ten at a time, and put through intensive training (30 words a day to learn, 150 a week, week in, week out) which became known as the Joint Services School for Languages. With full backing from the War Office, Elizabeth Hill found the best teachers and the accommodation, at Cambridge, against opposition from the faculties, who objected to this non-academic imposition from outside. JSSL 'Kursanty' who survived this ordeal never forgot her, or the course. Many subsequently became successful in diplomacy, academia or business. JSSL is the stuff of legend and still talked about, over 60 years afterwards. In due course she was created a Dame for her work. She died in 1996, and these are her life's memoirs, written, by all appearances, with total recall of how so-and-so looked and what he or she was wearing, and what they said, across generations. Her anecdotes of the first post-war visit to Britain of an official Soviet delegation are as colourful -- and as illuminating -- as they are delicious.
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