Arthur Ransome knew Russia. He lived there from 1914 to 1918 almost all the time. He taught himself Russian and became a foreign correspondent for the liberal Daily News and Manchester Guardian. More than that, he came to know many of the Bolshevik leaders like Lenin, Trotsky and Checherin almost as personal friends, and, indeed, married Trotsky's secretary, Evgenia Petrovna Shelepina.
Arthur Ransome as a commentator on the Russian scene at the most convulsive moment in its history is unique. Unlike famous visitors like H. G. Wells (though his marvellous book, Russia in the Shadows shouldn't be overlooked) and Bertrand Russell, his was no brief journalistic inspection: and unlike other reporters such as John Reed, Victor Serge and Alfred Rosmer there was no tendentiousness in what he wrote - they were convinced revolutionaries, Ransome, although not unsympathetic to the Bolshevik cause, was a more objective recorder.
Six Weeks in Russia, The Crisis in Russia and the pamphlet, The Truth about Russia constitute the best contemporary writing about Russia at the time of the Bolshevik takeover. They were reissued in the early 1990s, with an introduction by Paul Foot which has been retained for the Faber Finds reissue of Six Weeks in Russia; otherwise they have been out of print since first published
‘There was a sudden sickening sense of disaster. I felt a great lurch and heel, and a thunder of sound filled my ears. I was conscious, in a terrified moment, of being driven into the front and side of my bunk with tremendous force. At the same time there was a tearing cracking sound, as if Tzu Hang was being ripped apart, and water burst solidly, raging into the cabin. There was darkness, black boards, and I fought wildly to get out, thinking Tzu Hang had already gone. Then suddenly I was standing again, waist deep in water, and floorboards and cushions, mattresses and books were sloshing in wild confusion round me.’
Miles Smeeton and his wife Beryl sailed their 46-ft Bermuda ketch, Tzu Hang, in the wild seas of Cape Horn, following the tracks of the old sailing clippers through the world’s most notorious waters. This is an exciting true story of survival against all odds, but it is also a thoughtful book which provides hard-learned lessons for other intrepid sailors.
As Nevil Shute writes in his foreword: ‘It has been left to Miles Smeeton to tell us in clear and simple language just where the limits of safety lie.’