CRF Blog

Five Best Memoirs of Communism

by Bill Hayes

For Five Books, Pulitzer-prize winning historian Anne Applebaum lists what she considers the five best books on Memoirs of Communism and is interviewed on her choices. Her picks are:

  1. The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz
  2. A World Apart by Gustaw Herling-Grudziński
  3. Memoir of Hungary by Sándor Márai
  4. The Snows of Yesteryear by Gregor von Rezzori
  5. Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov

Tell us about Miłosz’s book The Captive Mind, to begin with.

The Captive Mind isn’t a straight memoir. Although Milosz is writing about his own life and his past, he is also grappling with a larger subject: How his generation of liberal intellectuals came to collaborate with, and work alongside, the Communist party. And he is trying to understand his own behaviour: Why did I act that way?

To explain, he uses an extended metaphor: “It’s as if we all took a magic pill, became temporarily enchanted and went along with this ridiculous thing.” Then he goes through some “case studies” of individuals’ behaviour – even though they’re not named in the book, we know who he was writing about – and tries to explain why people collaborated or opposed the regime. In essence, the book is about the mentality of collaboration with communism. [more]