Marginal Interests by Mathew Lyons

Mathew Lyons

Marginal Interests


I didn’t recognise the book on my shelf. In fact, I barely noticed it, scanning the titles quickly for a different one I had mislaid. But somehow the thin, tattered spine of its  dust jacket caught my eye as it rested in the shadowed end of the bookcase.

It was one of my dad’s from his student days. I kept a few of them when we had cleared my parents’ house. Mum and Dad met in the Young Communist League a couple of years after the war. Their revolutionary ardour had faded by the 1950s, but I always felt a fondness for those young firebrands I never knew.

I didn’t remember this book, though: Musical Uproar in Moscow by Alexander Werth, published by Turnstile Press in 1949. Dad bought it the same year, on 7 June, a few days after his twenty-third birthday. It is about Stalin’s ideological assault on contemporary Russian composers, Shostakovich and Prokofiev among them. But what made my heart skip, flicking through its pages, wasn’t Werth’s prose or the thoughts of Soviet apparatchiks like Andrei Zhdanov. It was Dad’s small, precise handwriting in the margins.

It was a shock. My parents taught us to treat books with respect. And yet here was my father, the same age as my son is now, arguing out loud with the author, with groupthink, with himself. So, for instance, when Zhdanov is reported as saying that ‘in modern

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