If you find yourself in the midst of Christopher Hitchens’s memoir and he hasn’t said something to anger, inspire, or at least annoy you, wait a few pages. More the account of an intellectual and political odyssey than a conventional autobiography, HITCH-22 chronicles the critic-journalist-activist’s often storm-tossed journey across the ideological spectrum. What makes it a most rewarding trip is that he’s a traveling companion with a vigorous mind and a gift for sparkling prose.
Hitchens opens with an uncharacteristically (at least when balanced against the rest of the memoir) intimate pair of chapters that focus on his middle-class background and feature sympathetic portraits of his parents: Yvonne (who met an untimely end in the company of her lover in an Athens hotel room) and “The Commander,” a World War II veteran of the Royal Navy. Sent to boarding school at age eight, he was a mostly indifferent student through his days at Oxford, and he’s quick to focus the narrative on his political activism (including fervent opposition to the Vietnam War) among the Trotskyite International Socialists. There are some less than gripping tales of trips from Portugal to Poland to Argentina to meet with like-minded types, the unifying thread their opposition to any form of totalitarianism.
Despite his concession that “the moral attitudes that one strikes are often devoid of any significance,” Hitchens is never less than passionate in promoting his beliefs. Writing of his support for his friend Salman Rushdie in the face of the fatwa engendered by his novel, THE SATANIC VERSES, he offers this elegant summary of his political philosophy: “It was…a matter of everything I hated versus everything I loved. In the hate column: dictatorship, religion, stupidity, demagogy, censorship, bullying and intimidation. In the love column: literature, irony, humor, the individual and the defense of free expression.”
Citing in his support John Maynard Keynes’s question, “When the facts change then my opinion changes: and you sir?” the most substantial (and likely most controversial) chapter of Hitchens’s memoir is a spirited, if not entirely convincing, defense of his deca