Journey for Our Time

by the Marquis de Custine.Pellegrini & Cudahy, $4.00.
In 1839, a Frenchman devoted to the monarchic principle visited the Russia of Nicholas I, whose absolutism aroused roughly the same hatred and admiration throughout Europe as the absolutism of Joseph Stalin. The fierce disillusionment of Custine’s sharp-eyed report (edited and translated by Phyllis Kohler) parallels that of so many Western Communists of the nineteen-thirties who saw the promised land for themselves. In his Introduction to the book, former Ambassador Walter Bedell Smith observes: “I could have taken many pages verbatim from his journal and after substituting present-day names and dates . . . have sent them to the State Department as my own official reports.” But aside from the intriguing parallels between then and now, which can easily be pressed too far, Custine’s journal is also a vividly observed historical document — a brilliant travelogue.