Howard Fast: Life and Lit­er­a­ture in the Left Lane

  • Review
By – November 6, 2012

Ger­ald Sorin’s biog­ra­phy of the Jew­ish-left­ist writer Howard Fast (19142003) exam­ines Fast’s life through the lens of his polit­i­cal iden­ti­ty. Famous — or infa­mous — for his mem­ber­ship from 1943 to 1957 in the Com­mu­nist Par­ty of the Unit­ed States (CPUSA), Fast was often more pop­u­lar in the Sovi­et Union than in Amer­i­ca, although sales of his books and lit­er­ary rights made him a mul­ti­mil­lion­aire by the time he died. Sorin traces his life from scrap­py New York ten­e­ment kid work­ing all hours to put food on his wid­owed father’s table, to wealthy Hol­ly­wood and Old Green­wich lit­er­ary lion, hob­nob­bing with the literati. 

Sorin’s idea is that Fast was a mid­dling writer who joined the Com­mu­nist Par­ty and indulged in extra­mar­i­tal affairs to sat­is­fy his out­sized need for fame and appre­ci­a­tion. Accord­ing to Sorin, Fast sub­mit­ted to CPUSA dis­ci­pline and cen­sored him­self, know­ing­ly ignor­ing Stalin’s anti-Semit­ic cam­paigns, to enhance his career. While read­ers might won­der why any writer would con­sid­er Par­ty mem­ber­ship a career boost­er in the McCarthy peri­od, Sorin believes Fast chose to be a big fish in a lit­tle Com­mu­nist pond, where no one was too picky about lit­er­ary qual­i­ty as long as the pol­i­tics were cor­rect.’ Per­haps it is impos­si­ble to read Fast’s works or to inter­view his embit­tered fam­i­ly mem­bers, and not come to such neg­a­tive assess­ments, and at times Sorin’s frus­tra­tion with Fast is evi­dent. Still, such a crit­i­cal view is bound to stim­u­late new debate over the role of the artist in Cold War Amer­i­ca. Index, notes, photographs.

Read Ger­ald Sor­in’s Posts for the Vis­it­ing Scribe

Writ­ing Biog­ra­phy: The Historian’s Chal­lenge, Part 1 

Bet­ti­na Berch, author of the recent biog­ra­phy, From Hes­ter Street to Hol­ly­wood: The Life and Work of Anzia Yezier­s­ka, teach­es part-time at the Bor­ough of Man­hat­tan Com­mu­ni­ty College.

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