For more than forty years, Ilya Grigoryevich Ehrenburg (AY-ruhn-behrk) was a prolific novelist and journalist whose writings shaped Soviet readers’ views of the West and provided Western readers with a glimpse of Soviet life. He was born in Kiev to a middle-class Jewish family; his father was a brewer. When Ehrenburg was five years old, the family moved to Moscow. While a secondary school student, Ehrenburg became involved in anticzarist activity, participated in the Revolution of 1905, and was jailed. He fled Russia in 1909 and went to Paris. There he lived a bohemian life on the Left Bank, frequenting cafés where artists, writers, and intellectuals met. Ehrenburg published his first volume of poetry in 1910, and for a time he flirted with Catholicism and mysticism. His early verse, intense and experimental, was typically avant-garde.
When World War I began Ehrenburg became the French correspondent for a St. Petersburg newspaper and learned journalism. After the revolution deposed Czar Nicholas in February, 1917, Ehrenburg returned to Russia. Pleased with the revolution but disapproving of the Bolshevik ascendancy, he published an anti-communist poem for which he was briefly imprisoned. Ehrenburg remained in Russia during the bloody civil war, but he returned to Paris in 1921. After having witnessed seven years of war in France and Russia, he expressed his gloom and disgust about contemporary civilization in his first novel, The Extraordinary Adventures of Julio Jurenito and His Disciples. This picaresque tale follows the roguish Julio as he traverses Europe and collects fellow scoundrels from every nation. The novel satirizes Soviet communism and European capitalism with equal vigor. In 1923 Ehrenburg became Izvestia’s European correspondent, and for the rest of the decade he wrote a prodigious number of newspaper articles and popular fictions. His constant theme was the decadence of Western democracy and the loss of revolutionary idealism in Russia. Ehrenburg discovered a facility for fictionalizing an issue or phenomenon in the news: He invented interesting plots with grotesque twists, stocked them with simple characters, and spun them out...
(The entire section is 890 words.)