Joan Brady was the first woman to win the Whitbread Book of the Year Award, now the Costa, for her novel, Theory of War. She went on to write several more highly successful novels and thrillers. America’s Dreyfus is her second nonfiction book. The book is a culmination of Joan's decade-long fascination and extensive research into the infamous case of Alger Hiss. She has kindly written an exclusive introduction for SHOTS.
On 3 August 1948, Alger Hiss, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Organizing Secretary General of the United Nations, very likely the next Secretary of State, opened the New York Times to see himself accused of being a Communist spy.
His accuser was Whittaker Chambers, ex-communist, perjurer, fantasist, fraudster, thief.
Within less than a week, Alger Hiss’s life as a public servant was over. And an obscure junior Congressman was on his way to the White House.
His name was Richard Nixon.
People say the Hiss trial was the “Trial of the Century.” It changed the United States and destroyed one of the most promising politicians of his generation. They say it’s terrifyingly complex. But if you start right at the beginning, you can see that it’s just a hunt. It’s one man tracking another man down, cornering him, taking him out.
The charge of record that cornered the hunted man was perjury; the real charge was treason. The country was in the grip of an anti-communist hysteria, and it craved a scapegoat. Nixon’s genius satisfied that craving by turning the hero of the United Nations into America’s Judas Iscariot, the traitor at the heart of government. How? “I won the Hiss case in the papers,” he says in his Presidential tapes. “I played it in the press like a master.” It bears all his hallmarks: facts twisted and distorted to link together chains of events conjured out of nowhere, witnesses intimidated, witnesses suborned, evidence created, evidence suppressed, evidence destroyed. Sometimes the lies and contradictions are so brash and naked that a reader’s jaw literally drops. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the case is that the proof of innocence which Nixon so brilliantly covered up was right out there in the public domain where anybody could see it. That’s where it remains to this day, 67 years since the persecution began.
I knew Alger Hiss for more than 30 years. I can’t really explain why I didn’t write about his case long ago; it took facing prosecution myself to fire up my interest. Court cases do something to you. I wouldn’t dream of comparing mine to his extravaganza; mine was a tiny, stupid affair, and I won in the end. He didn’t. But there’s nothing like being summoned to court fifteen times in the course of two and a half years – not to mention the threat of a stretch in Holloway – to reorder priorities. And having half your community lined up against you is a harsh experience. Nobody I knew had ever been in a position like that.
Except Alger, and he was dead by then.
It was more for the comfort of a fellow sufferer than to find out what had caused his suffering that I began to read, to spend long hours with Google, to question. And to remember.
A US president instigated this manhunt-cum-witchhunt. The US secret services and the aristocracy of the Republican Party aided and abetted him. Even the Supreme Court has dirty hands. It’s about bloody time the truth came out.
Read an extract: America's Dreyfus Chapter 1 - PDF.pdf
Pub date: September 10, 2015
ABOUT JOAN BRADY
Joan Brady lives in Oxford but was born in California and danced with the New York City Ballet in her twenties, a story she tells in her highly-acclaimed autobiography The Unmaking of a Dancer. She won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award for her novel, Theory of War; the first woman, and American, to do so. The book also won France's Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger. Long-listed for the Orange Prize with her novel Death Comes for Peter Pan, she turned to thriller writing in 2005, pouring rage and passion onto the page with terrifyingly results. Critically and commercially acclaimed, Joan’s thrillers include The Blue Death, Bleedout and Venom. Read SHOTS’ interview with Joan from 2005.