Witness – Kirkus

Kirkus

May 21, 1952

WITNESS
By Whittaker Chambers

The long awaited, long delayed, personal testament of Whittaker Chambers who shared with Alger Hiss in the most controversial case of our time, not only in the enigmatic features of the case itself, in the violent partisanship of belief — or disbelief — in the two men involved, but more largely in its ultimate significance, established by the verdict, of the existence of Communist infiltration in high places. Whittaker Chambers’ story, over and above its unexpurgated emotionalism (which may alienate rather than attract sympathizers) is inherently more dramatic than any of the red recantations (Budenz, Bentley, etc.) in the destiny he was to play in what he calls a “tragedy of history”; it is also fully fascinating as an anatomy of personal as well as political direction and misdirection, in a man who was to find that “the horror of treason is its sin against the spirit”. From the many formative factors in his youth — the chilling father, the unstable brother who was to suicide, the poverty, this follows down to the college years and the young radical’s vision of “a dying world” and the potential of salvation offered by Communism “which from death could evoke life”. His participation in the Party, the apprenticeship at the Daily Worker, and then his assignment to Washington as a courier in the apparatus which was to include Alger Hiss,- these prefaced the years in the ’30′s of close association with the Hisses. “Alger Hiss and his wife I had come to regard as friends as close as a man ever makes in life.” But the uneasiness of conscience in that “tight little world beyond the law, turning upon an axis of fear”, that tight little world which knew the disappearances (deaths) of party members, led to the decision to leave the party, to return to the Quaker faith of his grandparents, to a life of bare simplicity on a farm, and to the fight against Communism which he undertook in his later years on Time and in his disclosures to Berle (dropped for several years) and then to the F.B.I. And in the last part of the book, which gives a transcript of the hearings before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, all the material on which the trials were based reappears, and the car, the rug, the typewriter, the microfilmed documents which were to be called the “pumpkin papers” give their damning corroboration to the Chambers’ story in the face of Hiss’ denial of a man he never knew, except possibly as a deadbeat he calls by another name… An often agonized confessional, which does not minimize the “storm of the spirit”, the martyrdom of the parish as well as the several sacrifices to which his convictions led, this still sustains its driven, dedicated fervor through close to 800 pages (which have only had a partial appearance in the S. E. P.). The Book of the Month Club lends its impetus, if any is needed beyond the curious, sensational properties of this story.

 

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