An Accidental Marxist – Novelist Louis Trimble
Louis Trimble published about eighty books. I think he lost count. “I wrote thirty mystery novels and got bored,” he said during an airplane trip not long after I met him in 1977. “So I started writing westerns, and after thirty of those, I switched to science fiction.” It was his sci-fi thriller “The City Machine” that brought him the greatest acclaim, though not from a source he expected. The novel came out during the deep freeze of the Cold War, and to Louis’ great surprise, Eastern European censors adopted it as a symbolic Marxist treatise on the inevitable fall of corrupt capitalism. “That never occurred to me when I was writing it,” he told me, and it obviously amused him greatly. “I’m an accidental Marxist.” The novel was translated into Polish, Czech, German, and Hungarian and sold throughout Soviet Europe. But during the Cold War, royalties couldn’t be transferred out of those countries. The zlotys, korunas, marks and forints piled up in frozen bank accounts.
Louis’ reputation as a serious applied linguist was skyrocketing in academic circles at the same time he was being acclaimed as a great American novelist in Soviet Europe, and Louis being the pragmatist he was, he found a unique way to get at his stranded funds. The US State Department was ever on the prowl to insert cultural and educational missions into the Soviet countries, and Louis hopped on board, getting the US government to sponsor him in seminars to Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, and East Berlin. “I can spend as much of the loot as I want while I’m in the country,” he told me. “I take a few days vacation at the end of one of the seminars, and live well for a week. When I’m there, they know me as the novelist Louis Trimble and are surprised by my work in rhetoric. Here in the US, people know me as a linguist and are surprised by my novels.”
I became an avid collector of Louis Trimble novels in those days, scrounging around in used books stores for old copies. They were all printed in paperback on cheap paper, and the pages have now turned brown with age, the glue on the bindings has let loose, and handling the copies in my collection invariably causes damage. But sometimes I wonder if the zlotys are still piling up in some forgotten bank account somewhere, sure that if they are, Louis would have a great chuckle about it all.