Ilya Ehrenburg Harrison Smith - Essay

Harrison Smith

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Whatever success it may have had in Russia, Ilya Ehrenburg's massive war novel [The Storm] will not sweep off his feet any American or Englishman who is not a Communist or a fellow-traveler. It is nevertheless deeply interesting for its insight into the official Russian view of the war and into the minds of individual Russians who had known France and Western Europe before 1939…. But considering its major thesis, that the war was won exclusively by his own country and that Russian Communists formed the solid basis of partisan revolts toward the end, it is a remarkable feat of legerdemain.

Since this long novel covers seven or eight years and has for its background France, Germany, and Russia, the author's task was principally one of selection and arrangement. His attempt to tell a coherent story by the use of scores of characters in scenes alternating from one country to another is almost inevitably bewildering to the reader. Told in this manner the novel could not possibly have the sweep and continued passion of war novels unified in time and space….

Considering all the difficulties in distorting history and writing a novel of vast dimensions that is presumably a record of the greatest war in the history of mankind, Mr. Ehrenburg has nevertheless created a book that should be read for whatever native inspiration it contains, for its contribution to the study of the Russian temperament and credulity, and for a few notable and memorable French and Russian characters.

Harrison Smith, "A Different European Species," in The Saturday Review of Literature (copyright © 1949 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. 32, No. 52, December 24, 1949, p. 16.