Reading Vasily Grossman While Waiting for S

Maria Tumarkin in the Sydney Review of Books:

What a time to be reading about Annie Ernaux’s self-obliterating affair with S from the Soviet embassy in Paris, not that you’d sense that something’s in the air from the English-language reception to Getting Lost, Ernaux’s diary of the relationship, published in English last September. In the diary and in its generally admiring reviews S is described as a diplomat, apparatchik, attaché, ‘faithful servant of the USSR’ (Ernaux) and Brezhnev nostalgic/Stalin apologist when drunk. Also: ‘He is somewhat, not to say very, anti-Semitic: “Isn’t Mitterrand Jewish?” ’ Pretty standard stuff. Come on. He would have been KGB. And it matters not because he may or mayn’t have tried recruiting Ernaux – S kept their affair secret and appeared uninterested in converting her into an asset or using her connections (his anti-intellectualism was a turn-on for Ernaux). It’s possible in fact Ernaux was so erotically dazzling she shortcircuited, without realising, some good old planned sexual espionage (if so I’d like to read about it). She though wasn’t remotely intrigued by what S did when not with her: ‘I never knew anything about his activities, which, officially, were related to culture. Today, I am amazed that I did not ask more questions.’ Culture my arse. The KGB thing matters because an account of a prominent French writer, one of the greats to many, the most recent Nobel Prize winner losing her mind over a KGB stooge in the dying days of the Soviet Union reads, lands, sits, sticks, whatever the verb, differently after 24 February 2022.

More here.