The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe

In This Review

The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe
By Kristen Ghodsee
Duke University Press Books, 2015
272 pp. $84.95
Purchase

Frank Thompson was the older brother of the famous British historian E. P. Thompson. The elder Thompson, like many other bright, idealistic Oxbridge-educated youths in the 1930s, was repelled by fascism and drawn to communism. He fought and died as part of a British military mission to aid partisan forces fighting against the German-allied Bulgarian government. Ghodsee turns Thompson’s life and the equally heroic story of three Bulgarian brothers and their 14-year-old sister, who were also part of the resistance, into a gentle, reflective exploration of the idealism that drove them, despite the barbarity that many communists had already glimpsed in Stalin’s Soviet Union. The young girl, Elena Lagadinova, became a national hero and eventually a senior figure in the Bulgarian Communist Party. At 80, she also became Ghodsee’s friend and a source for the historian’s big questions: What ideals continued to drive Lagadinova and others like her under the communist system? How do they square the good they still see in that system with what they now recognize as its excesses? And how do they measure the good and bad of the past against the defects of the present?