Truth to power

<strong>Iron Curtain: From Stage to Cold War</strong>

Patrick Wright <em>OUP, 488pp, £18.99</em>

The cultural historian Patrick Wright digs beneath the widely held perception that Winston Churchill coined the phrase “Iron Curtain” in 1946, in order to excavate the origins of one of the most evocative 20th-century political metaphors. Unearthing several earlier uses of the phrase from the time of the First World War, Wright fleshes out the story behind each in unstinting detail.

These intriguing anecdotes are combined with a thorough scrutiny of how western delegations touring Soviet Russia were repeatedly greeted with “Potemkin villages” – theatrical manipulations of Stalinist life bearing little relation to the stark reality. Exploring these elaborate set-ups and their various effects on the delegates, Wright conveys the strangeness of an almost bewilderingly ideological period.

Wright jauntily debunks prior interpretations of Stalinist-era history by shining a light on peripheral figures whose actions have been overlooked. He repeatedly circles around then hammers home his central point that, while newly found perspectives on Soviet Russia can help us establish a more honest history, the strength of the Iron Curtain metaphor is such that, ultimately, no perspective can escape its distorting force.

This article first appeared in the 29 October 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Pakistan