Friday, June 09, 2006

"The Commisar Vanishes" by David King is about people that Joseph Stalin tried to eliminate from the historical record and often did eliminate from being alive.

The author David King persistently collected Soviet books for decades. In this book you see the picture of the group of revolutionaries or the group of government officials the first time it appeared. Then you see later and later appearances, with fewer and fewer people in them.

A photo of a gathering of 20 revultionaries, of whom 13 were killed by the revolutionary government. A photo of Stalin and three other men looking like equals, that ended up being a picture of just Stalin.

This doesn't come through in the reproductions but King says the retouches are often done just a bit crudely, so the ghost of an image in left. King doesn't know if this is lack of skill on the part of a particular retoucher, Stalin and the rulers sending a message, or the retouches protesting.

Some of the eliminations are retouchings. Like a class picture of a group of honored workers who were graduates of a special program. Four of them are just blatantly cut out of the picture.

How does history feel? This book actual gives some of the feeling of murder. Looking at the first version of the photos and turning the pages and watching the same photo have fewer and fewer people--those disappearances feel, just leafing through the book, like murder, like daring to cut someone down.

It's good that it feels that bad to look at the book.

This is the kind of book libraries have.