Ilya Ehrenburg Diana Trilling - Essay

Diana Trilling

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mr. Erenburg's account of the French defeat ["The Fall of Paris"] is a novel chiefly by virtue of the fact that it is such inaccurate history—another of those literary demonstrations that the Communist Party is the only solution for the ills of the world, and another instance of the vital connection between a writer's prose and his political purpose. For Mr. Erenburg's vague, discontinuous, lifeless, impressionistic prose is the perfect instrument of his political partisanship. It is such a befuddling prose, it so beclouds the sequence of historical facts, that I very much doubt whether any but a reader fairly well acquainted with the complex history of modern Europe would realize that in 530 pages on the history of France between 1935 and 1940 there has been hardly a mention of Russia, except as a flag on the horizon, and except for one oblique reference to a newspaper headline, not a single mention of the Soviet-Nazi pact. It is Mr. Erenburg's one-eyed view of what happened in France in this period that while the French workers under Communist leadership clamored to destroy Nazism and die for France, they were sold out by the league between fascism and democracy. All his characters are puppets…. And what makes confusion twice confounded is that sprinkled among Mr. Erenburg's large cast of fictional characters are several historical figures—Blum, Laval, Daladier—who are intended, I suppose, to give the note of verisimilitudes to Mr. Erenburg's creations….

"The Fall of Paris" is full of political hope. Also it is pro-Soviet. But it is one of the deadest books I have ever read. (p. 900)

Diana Trilling, "Fiction in Review: 'The Fall of Paris'," in The Nation (copyright 1943 The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 156, No. 26, June 26, 1943, pp. 899-900.

[The Fall of Paris] makes great demands on one's knowledge of recent French political history, for it is a story of warring political ideas, a story in which the heroes are young Communists fighting for lost causes after having been betrayed by their leaders. The total picture created here of deception, mistrust, and intrigue is unforgettable. This analytical and exciting story is a distinguished addition to the literature of the fall of France.

"The Atlantic Bookshelf: 'The Fall of Paris'," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1943, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 172, No. 1, July, 1943, p. 127.