The Maisky Diaries: Red Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, 1932–1943

In This Review

The Maisky Diaries: Red Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, 1932–1943
Edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky
Yale University Press, 2015
632 pp.

Ivan Maisky was an amazing diplomat by anyone’s standards, and it turns out that he was an amazing diarist as well. In the Soviet bureaucracy, Maisky stood out in many ways, especially as a Jew, and also as someone who was comparatively open-minded but nonetheless loyal and who survived Stalin’s purges—one of only two major Soviet ambassadors to do so. (Two weeks before Stalin died, in 1953, Maisky was arrested during the anti-Jewish witch-hunt that marked the dictator’s last years, but he was released two years later and fully rehabilitated.) During the 11 years he spent as a Soviet diplomat in London, Maisky kept a daily diary, a bold act in itself. Gorodetsky stumbled across it in 1993 while doing some research in Moscow. Almost every page sparkles with Maisky’s urbane wit. His portraits of the British elite are stunningly acute, and his depiction of London’s social, cultural, and political life radiates with color and a refined sensibility—especially the passages recorded during the German air siege of 1940. The diaries give readers a chance to meet a significant figure from this period who eschewed leaden Soviet-speak and candidly shared his doubts, convictions, fears, hopes, and frailties with honesty and clarity.

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