Top positive review
A BOLSHEVIK AT THE COURT OF ST JAMES
29 August 2016
This is a jaw-droppingly interesting account of the 1930s and 1940s from the Soviet ambassador. It's not wholly clear from the admirable commentary whether Maisky ever intended publication - or indeed for whom the diaries were written. From time to time, Maisly remembers what he should be saying, but he cannot resist the claims of gossip. He is astonishingly candid. I understood a lot more after reading these diaries - about Churchill's madnesses and his level of calculation, about the sympathetic in-the-shadow Eden, the sanctimonious (and devious) Halifax and the appalling hypocrite Chamberlain. These are such vivid portraits - like Pepys, to be sure, but classics of Jewish comic writing, as if stuffy late-empire Britain with its tiaras, breeches and ostrich feathers had been rendered by a writer of the skill of Saul Bellow. Also there are truly great accounts of the Left - Wells (likeable), the Webbs (loved by Maisky and revealed to be unpompous, the scultptor Epstein, Keynes and his Russian wife. Maisky knows this world is on the way out, he has reasons to detest Britain for its lack of resolution and only sometimes canny manipulations. But he loves British society for its rich texture of silliness. Can a Bolshevik be a raving snob? Yes. Is this the best sustained piece of writing from within Soviet Civilization? Surely. can we learn from Maisky? Oh yes - be attentive, always watch, enjoy even the darkest times. Survive.