I enjoyed Litvinoff’s A Death Out of Season immensely, with its story of anarchists and revolution moving between Poland, Russia and London’s East End. It tells the story of the siege of Sibley Street, but I hate giving even that much away. They are characters elsewhere reviled that will stay with me a long time, their dreams for a better world brought alive here with no little tenderness. I also loved this description of the differences between tasrist Russia and England, though England still brought death in the end.
The difference was measured barometrically, in the gradient of fear. In Warsaw, the suitcase he carried was filled with sedition. He would have already edged towards the door, prepared if necessary to abandon it and run. Here it was so much printed merchandise, legitimate stock for Hoffman, the bookseller, who openly displayed revolutionary tracts in half a dozen languages which elsewhere were hidden under floorboards and passed from hand to hand under cover of darkness. Special Branch detectives badly disguised as working-class intellectuals dropped in to collect a pamphlet or two and take note of Hoffman’s shabby clientele, some of whom were reputed to be the most dangerous agitators in Europe. They went away smiling, smug, relaxedly British. What a country, Murontzeff thought almost affectionately. The Wiezence prison had changed him a little. For the first time in six years of exile he had the feeling of coming home. But the blandishment must be resisted. It wasn’t home at all: home was where the fear raged at fever point. (41)
The trashy cover is great too. All of this is a glimpse into the Jewish East End of immigrants and radicals, of poverty and struggle. Another reason to miss Stepney, but looking forward to reading the other two novels in the trilogy. I am so glad I found Litvinoff, and even more to receive these as gifts. It took Covid recovery to find time to come back to them.
Litvinoff, Emanuel (1979) A Death Out of Season. London: Penguin.