coming soon: the American night
I've written a brief review of Alan Wald's new book Trinity of Passion: The Literary Left and the Antifascist Crusade. Trinity of Passion is the second of three linked books that track a generation of left-wing American writers from the 1920s through the early 1960s.
The earlier study, Exiles from a Future Time, took us from the concurrent emergence of aesthetic modernism and of post-1917 forms of radical politics to the first months and years of the Depression. (The story of that concurrence takes Wald and us to the brink of understanding how and when modernism and communism could and could not converge—-a big, important topic that Wald himself has played a major role in raising in other books and essays over the years.) The new work, focusing more on novelists (poets were the emphasis of Exiles), takes us through the Popular Front period. The third book, already researched and in states of draft, is to be called The American Night: The Literary Left in the Era of the Cold War. Wald is right to claim that each of the three “stands alone as a self-contained book” (to quite the new book's preface) but, when taken together, the three will have coherently introduced dozens of fascinating heretical writers most readers will not have known before, and will have reworked—sometimes with the addition of stunning new information about their political views and affiliations—a number of writers we thought we knew.
Here is a passage from my review:
"Judging only from the many books in which Alan Wald is thanked—-typically for sharing his personal archive, providing leads, and teaching his method—-we know that he is among those who believe that the survival of such research has a political and ethical efficacy. And if he has conveyed the sense of this style to a few young scholars, he is also aware of his debt to predecessors: Walter Rideout for his 1956 book on the radical U.S. novel (daring for its time), Daniel Aaron for Writers on the Left of 1961, and James Gilbert for Writers and Partisans of 1968. Wald’s work stands in a literary-historical tradition. But his trilogy is already better and more coherent than the three just named. Why? Because the archives are open wider than they were during the cold war, and because veterans of American literary communism were ready to talk at least somewhat honestly by the time Wald (especially in the 1980s and 1990s) traveled to them with his tape recorder."
And here is the whole review - I should say draft of it, since it's bound to be edited a bit.