1. Stalin's Children

Stalin's Children: Three Generations of Love, War, and Survival by Owen Matthews

Pages: 287
Finished: Jan. 3, 2009
First Published: Sept. 16, 2008
Genre: memoir/biography
Rating: 3.5/5
Reason for Reading: received a review copy from the publisher.

First sentence:

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.


  1. Hmmm--is the 3.5/5 because you weren't as interested in the history of it? I have this one on my shelf and am looking forward to it--I especially like when an author can mix biography and memoir well--My Father's Paradise is one that acheived that.

  2. Great review Nicola! I have this book on my shelf (some day).....

    =) Jill

  3. The 3.5 means it was good but it wasn't a page-turner, nor was it rivetting.

    I liked the history, it was the politics that made some pages slow going but I certainly wouldn't deter anyone from reading it.

  4. Great review Nicola. This book is on my TBR. I have an interest in it because my grandparents were from Russa. I am so thankful that they escaped and found each other in the U.S. Yikes my parents and could have been born in Russa with the possiblity of not having children and dying young. The fate of many russian jews.

  5. This book sounds really interesting. I'm not sure how interested in Russian politics I am but the biography/memoir part sounds very good


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