Henri Troyat Frederic Morton - Essay

Frederic Morton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In "The Red and the White,"] Henri Troyat painted, with considerable effect, the impact of the Russian Revolution on the Danovs, an upper-middle-class family in Moscow. Now "Strangers on Earth" chronicles the fortunes of his characters after their escape to France.

Inevitably the pace of the story slows. In the earlier novel the Danovs were participants in a flamboyant cataclysm. In the present one they are subject to the slow gray attrition of exile….

[Mr. Troyat] knows the Danov milieu down to the last concierge's sneer. But in "Strangers on Earth" intellectual knowledge seldom turns into live emotion. The melancholy dash and the sweeping plot line which served the author so well in "The Red and the White" find hardly a foothold in this slower, drabber, but also more complex sequel. Needed here is not the thunder and speed of the historical novel, but a sensitivity to social texture, a probing and projection of psychological detail in other words, the key of subjective realism in which the contemporary novel is so often written.

Occasionally the book touches a figure that seems unscathed by exile: the mountebank Kisiakov, for example, with his hearty perversions. Kisiakov kindles whatever page he strides across. But elsewhere the book describes a world that has become too modern and dull-colored for Mr. Troyat's style.

Frederic Morton, "A Tragedy for Sale," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1958 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 27, 1958, p. 5.