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Sunday, May 01, 2011
Soon after Marguerite Harrison’s gripping autobiography was published, the New York Times called it the most interesting and valuable book available on contemporary Russia. Yet, inexplicably, the work has been out of print for 80 years.
First published in 1921, just months after Harrison’s release from a Bolshevik prison. Marooned in Moscow provides a fascinating account of her entry into war-torn Russia in early 1920, first-person impressions of many in the top Soviet leadership, and her increasingly dangerous work as a journalist and spy, to say nothing of her work on behalf of prisoners, her two arrests, and her eventual ten-month-long imprisonment, including in the infamous Lubyanka prison. It is a veritable encyclopedia of life in Russia in the early 1920s.
Harrison’s work came out fully a decade earlier than most other accounts of Soviet Russia and is very mzuch in the tradition of John Reed’s Ten Days That Shook the World, yet Harrison’s is not a sympathetic voice. She is an incredibly observant, tenacious and meticulous journalist, but also very much an ordinary American woman caught up in extraordinary events.
This new edition has been meticulously edited, glossed with hundreds of useful explanatory footnotes, supplemented with documents from KGB and U.S. intelligence archives, as well as photographs of many of the main actors and locales, and includes an introduction by the editor, William Benton Whisenhunt.
“Marguerite Harrison is both plucky and lucky… She is a bright star in American journalism and every newspaper man or woman ought to be proud of her. Her book… is steadily interesting from beginning to end. She is a born journalist, for she knows what is important and what to leave out; she cheerfully risked her health and her life to get the ‘news,’ and she got it. She writes without bias…. I have not seen any book on contemporary Russia more interesting and valuable than this, and none that inspires more credence.”– The New York Times
“Since Mrs. Harrison left Russia, correspondents of every complexion have been permitted to enter, but the Russia they describe is not the Russia Mrs. Harrison saw, and her account is needed as a picture of a period which has been both misrepresented and misunderstood.”– The Washington Herald
Marguerite Harrison was born in the late 1870s to a prominent Baltimore family. Her early life was somewhat uneventful, but when her husband died in 1915, that all changed. Through her work as a journalist for the Baltimore Sun during World War I, she began to work simultaneously as a journalist and spy, first in post-war Germany and then in post-revolutionary Russia. After her first imprisonment in Russia (which is the central fixture of this book), she returned to Russia (only to be imprisoned again), traveled across Asia, trekked the Middle East, wrote illuminating accounts of her adventures, co-founded the Society of Women Geographers, helped produce perhaps the world’s first film documentary (Grass), and authored an autobiography of her first sixty years.
William Benton Whisenhunt is Professor of History at College of DuPage. He is the co-author (with Marina Swoboda) of A Russian Paints America: The Travels of Pavel P. Svin’in, 1811-1813 (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008), the co-editor (with Steven A. Usitalo) of Russian and Soviet History: From the Time of Troubles to the Collapse of the Soviet Union (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008), and author of In Search of Legality: Mikhail M. Speranskii and the Codification of Russian Law, 1826-1833 (East European Monographs, 2001). He received his Ph.D. in Russian history from the University of Illinois at Chicago and was a J. William Fulbright Senior Scholar at Ryazan State University in Ryazan, Russia in 2006.