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Adam Hochschild in conversation with Isabel Allende
Saturday, May 9, 2020
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Adam Hochschild’s recently released Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical tells the astonishing but forgotten story of an immigrant sweatshop worker who married an heir to a great American fortune and became one of the most charismatic radical leaders of her time.
Adam’s first book was a memoir, Half the Way Home: A Memoir of Father and Son (1986), in which he described the difficult relationship he had with his father. In The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani called the book “an extraordinarily moving portrait of the complexities and confusions of familial love.”
In The Mirror at Midnight: A South African Journey (1990; new edition, 2007) he examines the tensions of modern South Africa through the prism of the nineteenth-century Battle of Blood River, which determined whether the Boers or the Zulus would control that part of the world, as well as looking at the contentious commemoration of the event by rival groups 150 years later, at the height of the apartheid era.
In The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin (1994; new edition, 2003), Adam chronicles the six months he spent in Russia, traveling to Siberia and the Arctic, interviewing gulag survivors, retired concentration camp guards, former members of the secret police and countless others about Joseph Stalin’s reign of terror in the country, during which millions of people (the actual toll will never be known) died.
His Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels (1997) collects his personal essays and shorter pieces of reportage, as does a more recent collection, Lessons from a Dark Time and Other Essays (2018).
His King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa (1998; new edition, 2006) is a history of the conquest of the Congo by King Léopold II of Belgium, and of the atrocities that were committed under Leopold’s private rule of the colony, events that sparked the twentieth century’s first great international human rights campaign. The book reignited interest and inquiry into Leopold’s colonial regime in the Congo, but was met by some hostility in Belgium. According to a contemporary review in The Guardian, the book “brought howls of rage from Belgium’s aging colonials and some professional [Belgian] historians even as it has climbed the country’s best-seller lists.”
Adam’s Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves (2005) is about the antislavery movement in the British Empire. The story of how abolitionists organized to change the mind of the British public about slavery has attracted attention from contemporary climate change activists, who see an analogy to their own work.
In 2011 Adam published To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914–1918, which looks at the era of the First World War in terms of the struggle between those who felt the war was a noble crusade and those who felt it was not worth the sacrifice of millions of lives. His 2016 Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939 follows a dozen characters through that conflict, among them volunteer soldiers and medical workers, journalists who covered the war, and a little-known American oilman who sold Francisco Franco most of the fuel for his military.
Visit the Book Passage website to have any of Adam’s books delivered right to your door.
You’re sure to enjoy these Book Passage favorites:
Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes
King Leopold's Ghost
Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939
Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves
Adam responded to many of these questions directly, while in conversation, Saturday, May 9.
What sparked your passion for Maisie’s time period?
Like you I was briefly a civil rights worker in Mississippi in 1964 (assisting lawyer Henry Aronson in Jackson)–what did you do there and how did the experience shape your life?
When researching for your books, when you come across a conflict in how key people tell their account of a particular incident, how do you decide which version to go with?
If the US didn’t enter WW1, and Germany had won, could not have the 2nd WW been avoided?
Back in 2006, you wrote a public letter to then President George W. Bush in reaction to learning that he had been reading “King Leopold’s Ghost.” Did you ever get any reaction from the White House from your letter published in the Opinion Section of the Los Angeles Times? Here’s a link to the article: https://www.latimes.com/news/la-oe-hochschild22dec22-story.html
Looking forward to hearing you both.
Both of you have written about the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath. You’ve written Spain in Our Hearts and Isabel Allende’s latest book is A Long Petal of the Sea. Why do you think the Spanish Civil War is still a relevant topic today?
Rose’s work on behalf of Birth Control was fascinating. Do you see a parallel between the anti-birth control forces of today and those who vehemently opposed Rose, Margaret Sanger, and Emma Goldman?
I was fascinated by Rose’s friends in the Heterodoxy club. Does it still exist? I think it’s defunct, but if not, how can I join?
Could you tell us more about Rose’s husband Graham’s Uncle Will. He was such a sleazy wheeler dealer. Would he fit into the Trump administration?
New York only allowed divorce for adultery. What forces kept it in force for so long? When did that change?
Rose Pastor Stokes never became disillusioned with Russia, was she naïve or was there something else that made her such a fan of the country from which her family had fled.
How did World War I impact the growing movement for workers’ rights?
When do you feel that your research is completed?