The Constant Diplomat

By Taylor, J. H. | International Journal, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

The Constant Diplomat


Taylor, J. H., International Journal


THE CONSTANT DIPLOMAT Robert Ford in Moscow Charles A. Ruud Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queeris, 303PP, $39.95 cloth ISBN 9780-773535855

Robert Ford, diplomat and poet, retired from the Canadian embassy in Moscow in 1980. By then, notwithstanding a serious physical disability, he had survived in the Soviet capital for more than 20 years, 16 as ambassador. He had received the governor general's award for poetry and had been made a companion of the order of Canada for his public service. Among western governments, he was considered an outstanding expert on the Soviet Union.

When he retired, Ford had certain ideas about how the record of his long service was to be treated. Apart from his poetry (ultimately published in seven volumes) he wrote two books. The first, Our Man in Moscow. A Diplomat's Reflections on the Soviet Union, appeared in 1989. Ford conceived of this study as falling between a diplomatic memoir and an academic work. It is serious, close to academic in tone and substance, enlivened by the occasional anecdote, but on the whole impersonal. At the same time, apart from an index, it has no scholarly apparatus. Our Man in Moscow was designed to cover the greater part of Ford's professional life. In 1995, this time with considerable editorial assistance, he published a second book. A Moscow Literary Memoir. Among the Great Artists of Russia from 1946 to iç)8o dealt with the other dimension of his life in the Soviet Union - his many contacts with Soviet intellectuals, and in particular, the poets Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Andrei Voznesensky, and the aged Lili Brik, once Mayakovsk/s mistress.

Yet there remained another source of his writing he wanted published. This was contained in the dispatches and memoranda he had prepared over the years for the Department of External Affairs, on file in Ottawa. He believed these official documents would make a third book, this time in a scholarly edition prepared by a qualified historian. He pursued this project with determination during his lifetime. Now, more than 10 years after his death, it has been realized with the publication of The Constant Diplomat by Charles A. Ruud of the University of Western Ontario.

Ruud is a specialist in Russian history. His book is based upon research in primary sources in both the Canadian and Russian official archives, as well as on secondary sources. In addition, he had extensive conversations with Ford and interviewed a number of the ambassador's friends. He has produced a study of over 300 pages, of which some 85 are devoted to appendices, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. In form and style, then, Ruud's work seems to be very much what the ambassador had in mind. The author says, however, that his concept was different from his subject's. He may have concluded that an analysis of Ford's official writings alone would not have made a book. (The chapters devoted to summarizing and commenting on the dispatches run to only about 125 pages.) However that may be, Ruud has added biographical material on Robert Ford's childhood in London, Ontario, his education at Western and Cornell, and his life in retirement, as well as most of a chapter on the ambassador's wife, Thereza, a chapter on Ford's contacts with Soviet intellectuals, and a chapter on his Soviet counterpart in Ottawa, Alexander Yakovlev. These additional elements add colour and interest to the book. …

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