Having seen the plain interiors of dissidents’ living quarters a few times, I was struck that they nearly all had the same atmosphere. There would be a solid desk, a chair and a good reading lamp: the spare and ordered rooms of an academic. The books on the shelves would be wrapped for protection the way that I had been taught to wrap them as a child after the war, in thick grey or brown paper, the flaps folded over into sharp triangles. But if I now expected the familiar austere surroundings, I was in for a surprise. Without a word, Palous took us into a panelled room with worn leather chairs, dark brass objects and knobbled books bound in maroon leather stamped with gold lettering – his family’s original library, a collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century books from imperial times.

From ‘Once Upon Another Time’ by Jessica Douglas-Home. I enjoyed her descriptions of the landscapes, cities and the hand-to-mouth provisions made by the supporters back in England far more than her personal views on the dissidents she met, which I felt tended towards idealised fantasy. But her commitment comes through in this fascinating read of a brave enterprise that clearly embarrassed many of her social acquaintances.

Jessica Douglas-Home.jpg

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