Un-American Activities

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"My mother was a mere English eccentric, but my father was a Red and so in trouble all the time, if not in jail," writes Sally Belfrage early in Un-American Activities. "The phone was tapped from the minute I could talk on it, and the FBI had been at the door since I was tall enough to turn the knob. ... When my teens began it dawned on me: that the only untried, unheard-of, truly original ambition I might pursue was to be normal. Let the Reds take on injustice and get persecuted for their pains. Let the Beats in Greenwich Village reinvent
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Overview

"My mother was a mere English eccentric, but my father was a Red and so in trouble all the time, if not in jail," writes Sally Belfrage early in Un-American Activities. "The phone was tapped from the minute I could talk on it, and the FBI had been at the door since I was tall enough to turn the knob. ... When my teens began it dawned on me: that the only untried, unheard-of, truly original ambition I might pursue was to be normal. Let the Reds take on injustice and get persecuted for their pains. Let the Beats in Greenwich Village reinvent Bohemia. Let the bunch of them get seasick on the waves they made. Me, I'd be conventional!" Un-American Activities is the story of Sally Belfrage's desperate, and often desperately funny, attempt to be conventional in the fifties - something that seemed to come naturally to most people. Sally had the basic equipment (blond hair, blue eyes), but attending a largely Jewish school, with her father - Cedric Belfrage, editor of the National Guardian - under attack from Joe McCarthy, and with her parents, both English, under constant threat of deportation, she had her work cut out for her. Fortunately she latched on to a trusty guide - downstairs neighbor Debbi-with-an-i Giglio, drum majorette and aspiring airline stewardess, a girl who "had her kick pleats down pat." Throughout, Un-American Activities is animated by the tension between Sally's deep love for her father and her Herculean efforts to distance herself from the consequences of his politics. "Schizophrenia can be kid stuff if you learn it as a kid," as she says. This tension - peaking when she gets pinned to a West Point cadet - makes her memoir an enormously affecting father-daughter story as well as a lively portrait of the fifties as seen through teenage blue eyes, from the Bomb to bobby sox, from the Rosenberg case to the poodle skirt.
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Editorial Reviews

Aaron Cohen
Adolescence is difficult and awkward enough, but Belfrage's teenage years were more formidable than the experiences of most 1950s American teens. Her father, Cedric, was an eminent victim of the McCarthy-era anti-Communist witch-hunts. Her mother, Molly Castle, was a prominent writer deported for refusing to testify against her husband. "Un-American Activities" reveals the horrors inflicted on the family but, remarkably, lacks rancor; a witty observer of history and politics, Belfrage has fun spoofing the ridiculousness of cold war anti-Red hysteria. And her own life contained its share of personal tribulations and fascinating ironies: For example, as an English blonde, she was a bit of an outcast in her predominantly Jewish and Italian neighborhood; also, while her father faced the McCarthyites, she was dating a West Point cadet. She tells of all this in a detached but expressive narrative style, producing a book that proves it's still possible to discuss growing up in the postwar years without reverting to cheap nostalgia.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060190002
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/1/1994
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Pages: 224

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