« Soiled with mire from top to toe, and oozing blood from every pore », a seafaring man emerges on this side of the Atlantic to tell a weird story of intrigue and conspiracy, of spying and counter-spying, of treason, torture, and murder. It is a true story, a reliable record of tangible facts, albeit mostly of facts that remind one of the « stranger than fiction » columns. Yet there is the difference that they are not isolated facts which seem unbelievable only because they do not fit into the common assumptions derived from everyday experience. Valtin’s book reveals a whole world of well-connected facts that retain their intrinsic quality of unreality even after their non-fictitious character has been established. It is a veritable underworld that lies below the surface of present-day society; yet unlike the various disconnected underworlds of crime, it is a coherent world with its own type of human actions and sufferings, situations and personalities, allegiances and apostasies, upheavals and cataclysms.
GEORGE ORWELL died in 1950. He had become famous with the publication of Animal Farm in 1945, and much more famous with the publication Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949. But he was too ill to enjoy his fame, and he died of tuberculosis at the age of 46. Since then, he has grown steadily more and more famous, and after becoming a classic in his own life he has now become a name known by virtually everyone who reads at all. Almost all his books have been continually reprinted, and most of his shorter writings have also been conveniently reprinted in the four-volume Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters. Of all modern writers, in fact, he is one of the easiest to get hold of; he is also one of the easiest to get to grips with, for all his work has a style and structure which are so spare and simple and a personality and purpose which are so peculiar and powerful that introduction and explanation are virtually unnecessary. In a way, then, there is no need to read about Orwell at all, only to read Orwell; but this hasn’t stopped many people writing about him.