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The Golitsyns were one of Russia's most powerful families until the revolution turned their world upside down and life became a battle for survival. Like Leo Tolstoy, Sergei Golitsyn weaves a family saga—of love and happiness, terror and endurance—while also drawing a panoramic picture of a world that was about to be destroyed.
In 1917, Golitsyn was just eight years old, his head full of stories about knights in shining armor, but the reality was a bowl of gruel for supper and panic when there was a knock at the door. He longed to be a writer, but in fear of his life he fled Moscow to work on remote construction sites deep in Siberia before fighting with the Red Army across Europe to Berlin. Written in secret, his memoirs paint a rich and colouful picture of life in Stalin's Russia.
The publication of Memoirs of a Survivor in English is of historic and political significance. It sold one hundred thousand copies when published in Russia in 1990. It is unlikely that it would be published there today, as history is being re-written and Stalin's crimes whitewashed.
Part of the proceeds from the sale of Memoirs of a Survivor will be donated to the Bogoroditsk Museum—the former Bobrinsky estate where the translator's grandmother invited the Golitsyn family to take refuge in 1918.
Sergei Golitsyn (1909–90) eventually wrote stories for children. Memoirs is a family story to the end.
Nicholas Witter, the translator, is Sergei Golitsyn's cousin.