Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Great Unmentioned

I recently finished reading "The Time of the Assassins" by Godfrey Blunden, a novel about people caught between the competing forces of the SS and the NKVD during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine.

It is one of the best novels I have ever read.

The book was in a stack of used paperbacks purchased years ago. I recall thinking the subject might be interesting. The jacket touted it as a "classic" but that term is overused.

Not in this case. "The Time of the Assassins" is indeed a classic.

And that caused me to wonder: Why isn't this book better known? I don't have the answer. There is the chance that its clear-eyed view of both the Communists and the Nazis was not favored in circles that were willing to give the Communists a pass and yet that doesn't make sense because "Darkness at Noon" found a large audience. Some might point to a bias against Australian authors, but Blunden was a journalist who also wrote for TIME magazine. You might think the book would have gotten more press.

Which raises the issue of why some writers and thinkers - and yes, executives, managers, and employees - get enormous attention while others of equal or greater caliber do not. The PR wizards will rush forward with charts and PowerPoints to give their pitch. I've no doubt that it has a lot of merit.

And yet, there is often something more subtle at work. Malcolm Gladwell and Seth Godin have alluded to the fact that it is not enough to be mentioned; if one is to attain a certain level of fame then the mentioning must be done by the right people at the right time and, in some cases, for a prolonged period of time. Conversely, a negative report from an influential person at just the wrong moment can have an effect far beyond what it deserved. I recently remembered an executive board meeting of a community group several decades ago in which one executive's career was greatly altered by a few seemingly off-hand comments made by a higher-up who felt the exec wasn't ready for promotion. A quick zap and the board was on to other candidates. No deep analysis or weighing of the pros and cons. Nothing to see here. Move along, folks.

Just as we can be surprised to learn that a celebrated leader is actually an empty suit, we can be shocked to find work and individuals of enormous talent toiling, as the phrase goes, in obscurity. Who are those people? They are The Great Unmentioned.


Richard (Rick) Georges said...

If you like books that get lost in the shuffle, try It is a great resource, and The Time Of The Assassins is featured. The bad review by Anthony Lewis in the New York Times is credited with relegating this fine book to obscurity.

Richard (Rick) Georges said...

The Times review was by Anthony West, not Lewis. It was published (the review) in 1952.

Michael Wade said...


Thanks very much for the information and the link. As you probably know, Lionel Trilling wrote the introduction to the book's paperback edition. That may have been an effort to counter the New York Times review.

I'll add to my links.