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In the size of the armies involved, the vast spaces traversed, and the severity of the fighting, the war between Germany and Russia from 1941 to 1945 was a campaign that would tax the pen of a Tolstoy. Yet historians have had a difficult time reconstructing even the facts of this astonishing epic. The official histories under Stalin distorted and concealed as the political needs of dictatorship seemed to require. Khrushchev liberalized conditions for Soviet historians, but they remained subject to Party discipline and had to play down the military achievements of the Stalinists. Moreover, secret archives have not yet been opened to scholars abroad. On many important matters Western historians can only conjecture what the day-today war was like for the Russians.
In RUSSIA AT WAR 1941-1945 (Dutton, $10.00) ALEXANDER WERTH almost overcomes these obstacles. Having been born in St. Petersburg before the Revolution, Mr. Werth starts with the double advantage of fluency in the language and familiarity with the people. As Moscow correspondent for the London Times and the BBC, he was in a favorable position for observing events, and he kept a meticulous daily record of everything he saw, heard, or read about in the newspapers. Out of this mountain of material, collated with all the official sources he could beg, borrow, or steal a look at, there emerges now, twenty years later, a well-organized and very readable history, engrossing in its feel for daily life and impressive in the scope of the military and political events that it re-creates.
The first half of Mr. Werth’s narrative covers the prelude to the war and the dark years of 1941 and 1942, when the Russians tottered on the brink of defeat. The extent of the Russian debacle appears even greater in this retelling than had been suspected. It was a miracle indeed that the Soviets were able to survive and eventually wrest victory from the Germans. Though the Stalinist regime had made many costly mistakes, it had enough desperate strength and guile to hold on. But Mr. Werth is quite unequivocal in locating the source of the miracle in the Russian people themselves: in their extraordinary capacity to put up with all kinds of hardship and their passion for flinging themselves into the fight once it had become in their eyes a patriotic war for their own land.
The historian who identifies with his material is usually more perceptive than the one who does not, and Mr. Werth clearly has strong sympathies with the Russian people. As a result, his book will be labeled “pro-Russian” in some circles. Many of the events be touches upon are still highly controversial; he does not dodge the controversy but sets patiently about the job of sifting both sides. One of the most hotly argued events in the war has been the mystery attached to the Warsaw uprising in 1944, when the Soviet armies seemed to halt on the edge of the city, abandoning the Poles within to a bloodbath at the hands of the Germans. It has been argued that the Russians deliberately slowed their advance so that the Polish leaders would be killed, captured, or so discredited that Stalin would find it easier to install his own puppets. Mr. Werth concludes, tentatively at least, that the Russians were not so wicked, that they were in fact stopped by a German counterattack and could not come to the aid of the rebellion. On this, as on so many other matters in that war, the final truth will not be known, if it ever is, for some time. Meanwhile, Mr. Werth’s absorbing narrative is likely to remain the authoritative work for many years.


JEAN STAFFORD usually succeeds best with characters who are children. To be sure, these children are quite unusual, precocious in guile and slyness, living in a marginal land between adulthood and infancy. Even her adults have a streak of the confused but tricky waif about them. Since many people grow out of childhood without ceasing to be childish, Miss Stafford’s vision of the world, narrow as it may seem, does have a limited universality.
BAD CHARACTERS (Farrar, Straus, $4.95) does not contain the best stories Miss Stafford has ever written, but it is so consistently near her top level that it manages to be continuously delightful and entertaining. If sheer competence and proficiency in the medium of fiction were all that was needed, she would be among the top few contemporary writers. Sometimes in the past she has indulged this gift too much, and one could almost hear the grinding of elaborate machinery pushing her characters here and there. This heavy hand is noticeably absent from the present collection, though here and there a touch too contrived and too pat does emerge; but in these cases it is her insight, not her craft, that falters.
In a rather tongue-in-cheek preface Miss Stafford remarks that not all her characters here are bad — some are merely poisonous. They are all so many children bored on Sunday and finding the devil’s work to do; and their creator observes their petty and gratuitous wickedness with an amused detachment. Lottie Jump, in the title story, is a perfect sample of the Stafford blend of child-adult. A monster who goes in for theft and shoplifting, Lottie will sometime put on a grown-up’s clothes but is bound to remain basically unchanged till the day she dies.
When Miss Stafford abandons her child-adults or adult-children to deal with more normally mature people, her touch is less sure and she can be melodramatic and unconvincing. The most ambitious story, “A Winter’s Tale,” presents a middle-aged woman — comfortable in the possession of husband and children — suddenly remembering a very painful love affair years before, when she was a student in Germany. The writing is eloquent, the pace of the narrative is smooth and fluent; yet the characters that occupy stage front — a young Nazi who is really a Jew and the venomous Frau Professor Galt who exploits his secret — seem like stage props concocted out of all the anti-Nazi movies we have ever seen.


Of JEAN-PAUL SARTRE’S brilliance there has never been any question, even on the part of his most hostile critics. The nagging doubt left by his many novels and plays was not whether he could deal, eloquently and often profoundly, with intellectual themes, but whether he could create believable and three-dimensional human beings. Curiously enough, this primary gift of characterization emerges now, not in a novel but in an autobiography, THE WORDS (Braziller, $5.00), one of the most unusual attempts at self-revelation ever penned, and of the many works of this prolific author the one that may be most likely to endure.
The principal characters are the members of his family, drawn with sharp, swift, and merciless strokes — a family ambience as oppressively bourgeois as can be found anywhere in the novels of François Mauriac. Though he is candid about his relatives, he does not spare himself either, and he examines his own pretensions with a good-humored ruthlessness. He has arrived at a plateau in life, at the age of fifty-nine, where he seems singularly free of resentment. His father died when he was an infant, and he was brought up in the midst of his mother’s family —
Alsatians who also produced Albert Schweitzer, Sartre’s second cousin.
Grandfather Schweitzer was chiefly responsible for forming the boy’s vocation as a writer, and Sartre’s early adventures were not in the fields and woods but among the dusty tomes of the old man’s library.
Destined so early for the life of letters, he entered upon it with the solemnity of a priest dedicating himself to the religious life. That solemnity has long since departed from him. He is not disposed now to make Olympian claims for the value of literature; yet he, Sartre, will go on writing because it is his job, and literature does provide an image of man that we can face critically.
Sartre has indeed mellowed well, and a buoyant, if ironical cheerfulness glimmers from time to time through these somber pages. A sense of humor is a quality notably absent from his writings hitherto. Yet here he is able to say of a brief religious episode of his boyhood that he now feels about God as an old beau might about a belle he encountered years before: “Had the circumstances of our meeting been different, there might have been something between us.” One cannot imagine the earlier Sartre making such a dispassionate and goodhumored crack about himself.


The speed with which foreign authors get published in America seems to depend on the country of their origin. The French are promptly translated and widely publicized; recently the Italians have had ready access to American editions; the Germans, after a long lull, are beginning to make a splash. Since in the last decades we have not been in the habit of looking to Spain for new literary talent, we have had to wait twenty years for the arrival here of an extraordinary and powerful novel, THE FAMILY OF PASCUAL DUARTE, by CAMILO JOSÉ CELA (Atlantic—Little, Brown, $4.50).
Cela is a Basque, now in his forties, and if the rest of his work measures up to this tale, he is bound to be recognized as one of the most significant writers of our time. Pascual is a condemned murderer, awaiting execution in a jail near Badajoz. He tells his story in the form of a letter addressed to his superiors; and Cela handles this device marvelously, for it reveals Pascual the peasant, respectful but not cringing, having to make whatever meaning he can out of his wretched life by submitting his report to those higher up in society than himself.
The strength of the book lies in its absolute simplicity, starkness, and fidelity to the Spanish earth. Cela transmits the look and feel of the soil, and even the reek of peasant life out of which Pascual has sprung. Judged externally, Pascual has become a monster, a habitual murderer who has to be exterminated by society; yet as we read, we never cease to feel that he is a man after all, however brutalized, who has slipped inevitably into a destiny that he can no more comprehend than he could control. Cela is thoroughly in the Spanish grain, and the tale has the blinding black-andwhite force of a Goya drawing.
The translation by Anthony Kerrigan is excellent, and it is to be hoped that he will bring into English more of the work of this remarkable author.
A very different, far more sophisticated and Gallic treatment of violence is given in ALAIN ROBBEGRILLET’S THE ERASERS (Grove Press, $4.95). M. Robbe-Grillet is probably best known in this country as the scriptwriter of Last Year at Marienbad, one of the most experimental of the “new wave” in French films, which flustered its audiences. However puzzled, one could be sure of at least two things — that the action always kept moving, and yet because it kept recurring, that it seemed to stand exactly at the same spot. It is this same combination of motion and stasis that The Erasers conveys annoyingly but also brilliantly.

In the usual mystery story a murder has been committed and the excitement consists in finding out who did it. M. Robbe-Grillet compounds the mystery by making it unclear whether one, none, or many murders have been perpetrated. The alleged victim, Daniel Dupont, is a professor of economics who seems to be connected with the government in power. A terrorist group apparently has been committing murders in various parts of the country, and they may be responsible for Dupont’s death. But is he really dead? It would seem that he has planned his own disappearance in order to confound his pursuers (as well as the reader). A secret agent, Wallas, sets out to investigate the murder, but the mystery deepens as it appears that he may be one of the gang out to get Dupont. The whole melee of confusion is perhaps best summed up in the remark by one character near the end: “You’re not trying to tell us that someone named Dupont gets killed every night.” Dupont is perpetually about to be murdered, but the attempt never comes off. Motion and stasis.

M. Robbe-Grillet cuts up his action into parts and juxtaposes them arbitrarily, much as a cubist painter renders an object in fragments seen from front, back, above, and below at the same time. Is such highhanded procedure defensible in a novelist? In literature, as in love and war, all’s fair — provided it succeeds. I cannot say that M. RobbeGrillet has succeeded until I read his book again; but the fact that I am eager to reread it must be some sign of success. There has never been doubt about his originality and verve in working up excitement through all the puzzling convolutions of his stories. The question that persists, however — and on this his stature as a writer will ultimately be judged — is, what human substance remains after all the pyrotechnics have subsided?


In 1961 NEWTON N. MINOW was appointed by President Kennedy to head the Federal Communications Commission, which, among its other functions, is supposed to cast a supervising eye over the radio and television networks. As a conscientious public servant, Mr. Minow felt that he should become familiar with the quality and the problems of broadcasting, and he plunged into the selfpunishing task of long hours of televiewing. His discoveries were dismaying, and in his first speech before the broadcasters he made the now famous statement that much of television was a “vast wasteland.” The television industry never felt quite at ease with Mr. Minow after that.
EQUAL TIME (Atheneum, $5.95) is a collection of speeches delivered during the two and a half years he headed the F.C.C. They are well edited by Lawrence Laurent, radio-television editor of the Washington Post, who not only describes in exact detail the context in which each speech was delivered but supplies some very vigorous comment of his own.
Mr. Minow’s tone is witty and urbane, but also candid and straightforward. He floes not pull his punches, yet he does not speak with hostility toward the networks. Indeed, in retrospect it is rather astonishing that the broadcasters should have been so scandalized by what he said. He did give the networks credit for many positive accomplishments, and what indictments he made could have been much more devastating than they were. The fact is that television is one of the appalling social problems in our present civilization.
A central point to which Mr. Minow keeps returning is that the awarding of a channel to a private company is a gift that ought to place the network in the public’s debt. Since under present broadcasting techniques there is only a limited number of channels, the effect is somewhat like deeding over a central highway to a private group to be run for profit. Yet many broadcasters seem unaware of the responsibility to the public that this gift entails. Conditions have improved since Mr. Minow first spoke out, but not very much. The problems involved, to be sure, are very thorny, and we cannot expect quick solutions. Nevertheless, Mr. Minow did begin a dialogue between enlightened government and commercial broadcasters that should in time bear fruit; unless, of course, by then television has brainwashed us all, so that we no longer have the taste or intelligence to improve it.