This coincidence business is happening more and more often. Only the other day I told you about the excellent but gut-wrenchingly awful Child 44 written by Tom Rob Smith. The opening chapter describes in wincing detail the horrors of the Ukrainian famine. I have read some of the history books on this mass murder wrought on his own people by Joseph Stalin but somehow statistics never quite convey the full and loathsome flavour. In just one chapter Mr. Smith does what a dozen history books can never do - make you feel ill.
That was a few days ago but last night I decided to watch a programme I had recorded on my 'super-dooper-do-flicker-recording-thingie' (thanks, Rupe!) concerning the life and somewhat mysterious death of a Welsh reporter called Gareth Jones (1905-1935). The programme, on BBC4, was called, rather intriguingly, Hitler, Stalin and Mr. Jones. I am forced to agree with Ian Hollingshead in The Telegraph who thought that the very remarkable life and death of Gareth Jones was ill-served by this rather poor documentary.
Jones was from a middle-class, Welch background and attained a first class degree in modern languages at Cambridge. He seemed to have an effortless ability to identify the important circles in which an aspiring young man with no connections should mix and as a result, Hollingsworth writes:
He graduated from Cambridge in 1930 and spent the next five years working variously for Lloyd George, The Times, the Economist, Rockefeller and British intelligence. He also managed to meet Randolph Hearst, share a 16-seat aircraft with Hitler, whom he likened to a “middle-class grocer”, and have dinner with Goebbels.
How Somerset Maugham or John le Carré would have enjoyed knowing him! However, back to my creepy coincidence. He first made a name for himself by visiting the Soviet Union - he had learned Russian - as a journalist. This was in the early '30s when Stalin's version of "hope 'n' change" had begun in the Ukraine. Rather shrewdly, Jones skipped off the train before it reached its destination where he would have been met by Party apparatchiks. Making his own way he saw the truth which was a deliberate policy of mass starvation. We now know, or at least, estimate, that some 10 million men, women and children perished in the Ukraine during this period. Jones reported this via The Times and all hell erupted over his head, led by The New York Times and its despicable Moscow correspondent, Walter Duranty, who ran a headline: “Russians hungry, but not starving”. (Heavens to Betsy, the NYT lying for communism, 'who'da thunkit'?)
Jones was now a marked man but he continued his travels moving into ever higher circles of influence. Eventually, in the mid '30s, following his nose to yet another potential trouble spot, he went into inner Mongolia and the border between China, Russia and Japanese-controlled Manchukuo. There, in a desert wasteland, in the company of an exceedingly dodgy German of very mixed loyalties, he was taken prisoner by some bandits. Somehow, the German was freed but Jones was killed.
A short life but one that was lived to the full. Come on, Mr. le Carré, there's a cracking book to be written here - and an even better film. But in the meantime I wish these creepy coincidences would leave me alone!