He was a Soviet Party lackey, but what a great travel writer!
I DISCOVERED HIM MUCH TO LATE, in the year of his death, this Daniil Granin (1919-2017). He was for ages the president of the Soviet Writers Union, responsible for the ostracism of his colleague Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. And he enjoyed such a privileged status, even under Stalin, that he could travel wherever he wanted, got enough money to do it and used it extensively. I don’t like his political attitude (a stiff communist, as long as Communism existed in the Soviet Union, and a liberal thinker afterwards), but even when he travelled in the Cold-War-Fifties and the precarious 60s, he was – amazingly enough – a fair observer, a man for whom humor meant more than ideology, and to read the commentaries of a writer from another world (about the Taj Mahal, the New York traffic system, the Japanese emperor, Indonesian temples or Goethe in Weimar) in such a literary quality is eye-opening. I read Granin in German, in editions which were published in East Germany only, and I regretted not to have known his „Travel Sketches“ (that’s how he called them) before I went to the destinations he had visited and written about. This Russian is definitely in one class with Waugh, de Beauvoir, Gide and Fleming.