In July 1961, just before David Aaronovitch's seventh birthday, Yuri Gagarin came to London. The Russian cosmonaut was everything the Aaronovitch family wished for - a popular and handsome embodiment of modern communism.
But who were they, these ever hopeful, defiant and (had they but known it) historically doomed people? Like a non-magical version of the wizards of J. K. Rowling's world, they lived secretly with and parallel to the non-communist majority, sometimes persecuted, sometimes ignored, but carrying on their own ways and traditions. Where others went to church they went to Socialist Sunday School, society’s up was their down and its heroes were their villains. Who wanted American TV when you could have Russian movies?
A memoir of early life among communists, Party Animals first took David Aaronovitch back through his own memories of belief and action. But there was much more to it. He found himself studying the old secret service files, uncovering the unspoken shame and fears that provided the unconscious background to his own existence as a party animal.
Only then did he begin to understand what had come before – both the obstinate heroism and the monstrous cowardice. And the elements that shape our fondest beliefs.