Sunday, October 22, 2017

Linda Gordon

Linda Gordon, winner of two Bancroft Prizes and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, is the author of The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition, Dorothea Lange and Impounded, and the coauthor of Feminism Unfinished. She is the Florence Kelley Professor of History at New York University and lives in New York and Madison, Wisconsin.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Gordon's reply:
I’m loving Yuri Slezkine’s The House of Government, one of an unfortunately small and quirky category of history books that I enjoy, a book that takes a piece of the background and makes it the foreground, the plot, the interpretation and everything else. It’s a biography of a building, possibly the largest apartment building in Europe, built in Moscow in 1931 to house Communist big-wigs. It provided 505 furnished apartments, and all the services of a small town—cafeteria, grocery, medical clinic, bank, gym, etc. , not to mention a theater seating 1300 and a cinema seating 1500. In 1935 it had 2,655 residents. The story begins with portraits of the pre-Bolshevik young revolutionaries—often teenagers high on utopian dreams revealed in remarkably intimate letters and diaries, then proceeds to introduce the Stalin-era functionaries replete with their gossip and power struggles, and ends with tragedy, when some 800 of them were imprisoned or killed in Stalin’s purges. (Disclosure: I was once an historian of Russia.)

Because I’m interested in non-standard ways of writing history, another genre I enjoy is mystery/spy novels, either fictionalizing true stories and/or mixing real with imaginary characters. Several years ago I was gripped by the novel HHhH, standing for Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich, or Himmler's brain is called Heydrich, by Laurent Binet and translated from the French. Reinhard Heydrich, Nazi Obergruppenf├╝hrer, aka “the butcher of Prague,” led the plan to murder all the Jews, gays, disabled people, etc.  Another practitioner of that genre is Joseph Kanon, whose Los Alamos concerns the espionage going on as physicists rushed madly to build an atomic bomb. We meet J. Robert Oppenheimer, head of the project, and many of his co-workers, often refugees from Nazidom, as well as a fictional hero and, of course, a love affair.
Visit Linda Gordon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue