Stalin's Children: Three Generations of Love, War, and Survival by Owen Matthews
Finished: Jan. 3, 2009
First Published: Sept. 16, 2008
Reason for Reading: received a review copy from the publisher.
On a shelf in a cellar in the former KGB headquarters in Chernigov, in the black earth country in the heart of the Ukraine, lies a thick file with a crumbling brown cardboard cover.
Comments: This is the story of 20th century Russia told through the lives of one family, three generations long. Starting just after the Russian Revolution the author talks of his grandfather who was a good communist and belonged to the Party. Unfortunately, he said something he shouldn't have at the wrong time and was executed as a dissident against the Party. Then we are told the lives of the author's mother and father. The mother was a Russian girl and the father was a British man who had a deep interest in Russian literature, language and the people. So he went to Russia on a scholarship and fell in love with the Russian girl. They tried to recruit him into the KGB but he refused to betray his own country and was blacklisted from Russia. The two of them then spend the next 6 years writing letters almost daily to each other as he tries to get through the communist bureaucracy and blackmark on his name so he can marry his sweetheart and take her out of Russia. Meanwhile, the author inserts himself into the story when he is born and speaks of events that happened in the past then returns to his experiences in modern Russia. The author is a journalist and currently works for Newsweek in Russia.
This is a very interesting book if you are interested in modern Russian history. The author manages to combine the new trend of biography/memoir very well. The author never makes the book about himself, even though he does write of himself. He keeps the story of his ancestors in the forefront. By telling his families history he also tells the history of Russia, its transformation to Communism, perestroika and finally to today's democratic society. I found at times the political parts made me start wool-gathering but, of course, it is necessary to understand the politics to understand the lives these people lived and the book is definitely not heavy-handed with politics. The people always remain in the forefront. Recommended to those with an interest in Russian history.