Cover image for Jumping the line : the adventures and misadventures of an American radical
Jumping the line : the adventures and misadventures of an American radical
Herrick, William, 1915-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Madison : University of Wisconsin Press, [1998]

Physical Description:
xxiii, 283 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
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Material Type
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Item Holds
PS3558.E75 Z47 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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An eye-opening account of time served in the great battles of our century-- for workers' rights, against Fascism, Communism, and racism-- Jumping the Line is the life story of an American original. William Herrick chronicles his adventures and misadventures on the front lines of the Spanish Civil War, in (and very much out of) the Communist Party, driving a tractor on a communal farm in Michigan, jumping the line as a hobo, organizing African American sharecroppers in Georgia, at work with Orson Welles, and immersed in his own writing.
     Herrick chronicles a life of great conviction and great disillusion. He went to Spain in 1936 to fight against the Fascists and there witnessed the horrifying acts that Fascists and Communists alike committed, before he was felled by a near-fatal wound. Here he tells about the life that led him, a working-class Jewish kid from New York, into the idealism and then the murky politics of this internecine conflict. From the bloody fight in Spain he takes us to the battlefields of the Communist movement in the U.S., where he found himself parading up and down the garment district of Manhattan, denouncing his former comrades.
     When Paul Berman interviewed Herrick in the Village Voice in 1986, for the fiftieth anniversary of the Spanish Civil War, Herrick's remarks so incensed other veterans of the Abraham Lincoln battalion that they picketed the paper. What William Herrick has to say doesn't always go down easily. But for those who like the truth, with a dash of wit and a healthy dose of history, it can be exhilarating.

Author Notes

William Herrick is the author of ten novels, including the award-winning ¡Hermanos! , based on his experiences in the Spanish Civil War. His most recent novels are That's Life and Bradovich , and he has written reviews for the New York Times Book Review and the New Leader . Born in 1915 to parents from Belarus, he is a member of American PEN and lives in New York state.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Novelist Herrick has a problem with power. First as an American Communist, then as a member of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish civil war, and finally as a union organizer during the McCarthy era, he has confronted the havoc wreaked by power and its abuses. His experience as the child of Jewish immigrant parents growing up with Lenin's picture over his crib culminated in Spain, where he witnessed the corruption of the Soviet-controlled Communists. This memoir relates not only his experience in that war and subsequent public battles with Communist propagandists and congressional committees, but also his more personal reflections on life (and love) and his career as a novelist. His chapter on his stint as special assistant to film giant Orson Welles may be the most intriguing piece in a strangely compelling biography.Joel Neuberg

Publisher's Weekly Review

Unlike most activist memoirs about time spent in the American Communist Party, Herrick's (Hermanos!) is stripped of nostalgia. Instead, the book drips bitterness and rancor. Herrick was orn to socialist Jewish immigrants in 1915, and his early years coincided with the left's strongest showing in U.S. history. Herrick vividly captures the headiness of these decades, of his youthful experience with the Young Communist League; on Sunrise Farm, a short-lived, socialist/anarchist commune; and on dozens of picket lines. Then, in 1933, at the party's behest, he went to Spain as a member of the famed Abraham Lincoln Battalion. Herrick witnessed the atrocities of war firsthand, but found that many of the most egregious crimes were carried out by badly trained, scared comrades. His current hatred of the Communist Party is so strong that he presents every party official as a dogmatic automaton, blindly following Moscow's orders. While this is undeniably true in some cases (see The Soviet World of American Communism, reviewed Jan. 26), there were also many Communists and fellow travelers who, while no doubt naïve, were deeply committed to fighting for justice and equality. In fact, Herrick's bitterness is so great that the FBI was able to induce him to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) by offering him the chance "to get even" with the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (VALB), which leaves one wondering about his current stature as an "American radical." One leaves the book feeling cynical and angry, unable to envision any way to possibly change the world. Author tour. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Offered as part of the "Wisconsin Studies in American Autobiography" series, this work by the novelist and longtime American radical (b. 1915) reads like an oral memory in which the memories are clearer the closer the writer nears the present. Memory, sometimes sketchy in details, serves the author, as opposed to research, in order to re-create his boyhood milieu in Trenton, NJ, Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan, and the Bronx. After all, Herrick is a primary source. Readers will find fascinating these recollections of his ethnic heritage--his entire family was from Byelorussia and antitsarist. Born with the name Horvitz, the author grew up among socialists and communists, a distinction that is an overriding theme of this book. The bulk of the narrative discusses his experiences as a member of the Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, and here, particularly, he emphasizes his ideological growth from dogma to reason. For this sense of political ambiguity, Paul Berman dubbed Herrick the "American Orwell," although on that distinction, he is not alone. The author arranges the material chronologically, episodically, and anecdotally, with much local color. Undergraduates through faculty should enjoy this book. A. Hirsh; emeritus, Central Connecticut State University