To most Westerners Lev Kopelev, writer, scholar of German literature, great host and Russian intellectual and raconteur par excellence, is unknown. Yet millions of people throughout the world have read about him as Rubin, the staunchly Communist translator and inventor of the voice decoder in THE FIRST CIRCLE.
Kopelev's own book, perhaps the most damaging indictement of the Soviet system ever published, is a tragic account of the attempts by the Party machine to destroy a sentient and highly civilised human being and of the triumph of his spirit, his philosophy and his courage.
Articulate, persuasive, a born orator, Kopelev was an enthuslastic and energetic propagandist for the ideals and practical aims of the Communist Party. Apart from one youthful flirtation with the excitement of "oppositionism" in the heat of the intellectual debate of the inter - war years - an excursion that was later to cost him dear - there was no more fluent, more dedicatet exponent of the Party line, no one more ambitious to win recognition within the apparatus he served so fervently. But repeatedly the prize of full Party membership was plucked from his grasp: Kopelev's repeated offence was his failure to repress his own humanity. Serving as a Major in Army Intelligence, Kopelev was sent into East Prussia to report on civilian morale es the tides of Russian might poured across the sad battlegrounds towards the heartland of Nazi Germany. As a witness of the looting, rape and wanton destruction that soured the taste of victory, Kopelev struggled to open the eyes of his colleagues to the horrors committed by their own troops. His message fell on ears that were far from deaf, but hostile. Sick at heart and weakened by his wounds, Kopelev was arrested and charged wirth 'anti-Soviet agitation...dissemination of slander in time of war...bourgeois humanism'. He heard the guns that crashed out their message of victory filtered through the blocked windows of a makeshift jail. It was the beginning of the years of terror.
This acccount of those years is unique. Kopelev was no dissident - on the contrary, his dedication was unsverving even in the grimmest jails of the motherland he had fought untiringly to defend. His is a story of endurance, of exploration of the lowest depths of the system he so admired, of the malice and resentment that can fester unchecked in the core of a monolithic and myopic bureaucracy. But through the years of despair, of shattered hope, of bitter labour in the company of whores and vagabonds, traitors, heroes and thieves, Kopelev's iron consistency, his fidelity to the system that had so brutally betrayed him, make this a challenging record of one man's determination to speak for his own humanity through the fogs of contorted dogma. This is a voice the West has not heard before.
In a moving Afterword Kopelev's close friend. Nobel Prize winner, writer Heinrich Böll considers the devastating political implications of this great work and constributes a moving portrait of one of Moscow's most fascinating and bravest men.