Reviewed by: Jorge Fernandez, vice president of global commerce, Metro Atlanta Chamber
I felt there were too many great books to write a single review this year.
However, by coincidence I came across three unrelated books that share a common theme: the seizure of absolute political power and its ominous consequences to world order and to those that live within it. It seemed like an appropriate idea to explore in a year where questions were raised about the world’s political institutions.
The first, Spain in Our Hearts, is a historical narrative about nearly 3,000 Americans who participated in the Spanish Civil War from 1936-39. Most fought for the fleeting Spanish Republic under the Lincoln Brigade, joining 40,000 foreign volunteers led by the Soviet Communist International Brigades. The book tends to preference the losing side of the war. We hear war insights of many unknown Americans in the Brigades, including the “first ever black man to command an integrated military unit of Americans in combat.”
Other narratives in the book pertain to those that later rose to fame, such as Ernest Hemingway and Eric Arthur Blair, who wrote under the name George Orwell. Integral to the ghastly war storyline are the many Soviet purges in the Spanish republic to assert Stalin’s dominance of the communist world.
The second book is The Girl from Krakow, a historical novel by Alex Rosenberg. The plot narrates the horrors of a young Jewish woman as she attempts to survive the Soviet and German occupation of Poland in 1939. Intertwined in her ordeal is an idealistic Polish young man who served as a volunteer medical doctor in the International Brigades in Barcelona, Spain (see the first review above).
His past meets the present when he joins the Red Army and serves in the front lines as Soviet soldiers retreat ahead of the 1941 German advance. He ends up serving in a top hospital in Moscow during the siege of that city. Here again, we encounter Stalin’s many purges of the Trotskyites and his attempts to dominate the Comintern. The book seems to be a warning from Rosenberg’s warning that secrets for survival always come back to take its toll.
Then I jumped forward 75 years to Winter is Coming by Garry Kasparov. This is a chilling testimonial of a former world chess champion for the Soviet Union and now, a Russian dissident and optimistic fighter for a threatened Russian democracy. It is a warning about the rise of KGB Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Putin to Russia’s presidency in 1999, and his grasp of utter control in today’s Russia.
Hoschchild, Rosenberg and Kasparov make us ponder on the alarming outcomes of unlimited power and its effect on all of us who are entangled within its web.
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