An autumn scene at the Pipe Creek Farm in Maryland, once owned by Whittaker Chambers.
I don’t know if I have ever read a longer book in my life.
Witness is over 700 pages long, according to my Kindle reader. As you know, if you’ve been reading this blog, I have read the book in small bites, over several weeks. And yet, the end kind of sneaked up on me.
By now, you know what I think of the book. It’s an important and neglected part of American literature. The story it tells is at the very heart of the political and social polarization in this nation and in the world. The storyteller, whatever flaws he has – some admitted, some omitted from the book – is a fantastic writer: a man with an enormous fund of knowledge, vast experience and a profound gift for expression.
His descriptions of the investigation and trials strike me – a man who has himself been through several federal corruption investigations and trials – as dead-on accurate. His analysis of the forces at play behind the scenes in the case is, likewise, dead-on.
But in the last chapter of the book – after the guilty verdict against Hiss has at last been pronounced – Chambers rolls the camera back, away from the sweat and grime of the case and onto the broader picture of his entire life. This chapter – only a few pages long – is one of humility, poignancy and poetry. It alone would justify the price of the book and the time it takes to read it