Michael Mason

  • Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut
    Cape, 246 pp, £5.50, October 1980, ISBN 0 224 01772 1

The publication of Jailbird in Britain is oddly well-timed. The hero of this novel, Walter F. Starbuck, joins the Communist Party before the war while still at Harvard. Later he becomes a civil servant, and in 1949 is investigated by a Congressional committee on Communism. After the hearing he is simply demoted, but in his testimony he mentions the Communist affiliations of a former friend who is now a prominent politician. This friend is eventually imprisoned. Both men are universally calumniated as ‘traitors’ – Starbuck because he testified against his friend, and the latter because he was un-American.

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