Institute of Historical Studies
Institute of Historical Studies

Christopher J. Lee, Fellow in 2012-2013, publishes critical annotated edition of Alex La Guma's "A Soviet Journey"

Tue, April 25, 2017
Christopher J. Lee, Fellow in 2012-2013, publishes critical annotated edition of Alex La Guma's
Detail, cover art for "A Soviet Journey A Critical Annotated Edition" (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017)

IHS Fellow alum Dr. Christopher J. Lee, currently an associate professor of history at Lafayette College, has published a critical annotated edition of A Soviet Journey, by novelist Alex La Guma, a memoir of Guma's travels in the Soviet Union originally published in 1978.

Today the book stands as one of the longest and most substantive first-hand accounts of the USSR by an African writer. La Guma’s book is consequently a rare and important document of the anti-apartheid struggle and the Cold War period, depicting the Soviet model from an African perspective and the specific meaning it held for those envisioning a future South Africa. For many members of the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party, the Soviet Union represented a political system that had achieved political and economic justice through socialism—a point of view that has since been lost with the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War. This new edition of A Soviet Journey—the first since 1978—restores this vision to the historical record, highlighting how activist-intellectuals like La Guma looked to the Soviet Union as a paradigm of self-determination, decolonization, and postcolonial development.

The introduction by Professor Lee discusses these elements of La Guma’s text, in addition to situating La Guma more broadly within the intercontinental spaces of the Black Atlantic and an emergent Third World. Presenting a more expansive view of African literature and its global intellectual engagements, A Soviet Journey will be of interest to readers of African fiction and non-fiction, South African history, postcolonial Cold War studies, and radical political thought.

"Scholars and students of Africa and the Cold War owe Christopher J. Lee a debt of gratitude for rescuing from oblivion and masterfully editing this fascinating travelogue by one of the central figures of modern African literature and radical Cold War internationalism," writes Maxim Matusevich, Seton Hall University. "Alex La Guma never published a memoir and this account of his Soviet travels presents us with an opening into a remarkable and remarkably eventful life of a talented globe-trotting writer, a fierce political activist, and, ultimately, a committed humanist."

Monica Popescu, McGill University, lauded the new edition an "invaluable republication of an important yet previously neglected work by Alex La Guma [that] fills a gap in the corpus of antiapartheid literary texts and the history of Third World internationalism."

"More than a simple travelogue," she continues, "A Soviet Journey reveals the determining role played by the Eastern Bloc in the anticolonial imaginary. The compelling and idea-rich accompanying critical apparatus reveals the text’s cultural significance. Together with the brief but luminous prefatory essays by Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Blanche La Guma, Lee’s insightful introduction and meticulous annotations will become a touchstone for scholars and students of African literatures and cultures, Afro-Asian solidarities and African connections to the Eastern Bloc, as well as the global Cold War."

Dr. Lee was an IHS Fellow in 2012-2013, when the institute examined the theme of “Rethinking Diplomacy.” This IHS project was part of a broader cross-campus initiative that included the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, the Department of Government, the Center for European Studies, and British Studies. Together, the IHS and the campus-wide initiative sought to interrogate, stretch, and ultimately re-shape the ways the relations between societies and their representatives are conceptualized.

Professor Lee has published three previous books including Making a World after Empire: The Bandung Moment and Its Political Afterlives (Ohio University Press, 2010), Unreasonable Histories: Nativism, Multiracial Lives, and the Genealogical Imagination in British Africa (Duke University Press, 2014), and Frantz Fanon: Toward a Revolutionary Humanism (Ohio University Press, 2015).

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Read about Unreasonable Histories:
https://liberalarts.utexas.edu/historicalstudies/news/8718

Read about Prof. Lee's work at:
https://history.lafayette.edu/people/christopher-lee/

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