Red Boyhood: Growing Up under Stalin


Many children growing up in the Soviet Union before World War II knew the meaning of deprivation and dread. But for the son of an “enemy of the people,” those apprehensions were especially compounded.

When the secret police came for his father in 1938, ten-year-old Anatole Konstantin saw his family plunged into a morass of fear. His memoir of growing up in Stalinist Russia re-creates in vivid detail the daily trials of people trapped in this regime before and during the ...

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A Red Boyhood: Growing Up Under Stalin

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Many children growing up in the Soviet Union before World War II knew the meaning of deprivation and dread. But for the son of an “enemy of the people,” those apprehensions were especially compounded.

When the secret police came for his father in 1938, ten-year-old Anatole Konstantin saw his family plunged into a morass of fear. His memoir of growing up in Stalinist Russia re-creates in vivid detail the daily trials of people trapped in this regime before and during the repressive years of World War II—and the equally horrific struggles of refugees after that conflict.

Evicted from their home, their property confiscated, and eventually forced to leave their town, Anatole’s family experienced the fate of millions of Soviet citizens whose loved ones fell victim to Stalin’s purges. His mother, Raya, resorted to digging peat, stacking bricks, and even bootlegging to support herself and her two children. How she managed to hold her family together in a rapidly deteriorating society—and how young Anatole survived the horrors of marginalization and war—form a story more compelling than any novel.

Looking back on those years from adulthood, Konstantin reflects on both his formal education under harsh conditions and his growing awareness of the contradictions between propaganda and reality. He tells of life in the small Ukrainian town of Khmelnik just before World War II and of how some of its citizens collaborated with the German occupation, lending new insight into the fate of Ukrainian Jews and Nazi corruption of local officials. And in recounting his experiences as a refugee, he offers a new look at everyday life in early postwar Poland and Germany, as well as one of the few firsthand accounts of life in postwar Displaced Persons camps.

A Red Boyhood takes readers inside Stalinist Russia to experience the grim realities of repression—both under a Soviet regime and German occupation. A moving story of desperate people in desperate times, it brings to life the harsh realities of the twentieth century for young and old readers alike.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Anatole Konstantin’s informative and exciting memoir of his family’s heart-rending struggle to survive the dismal years of Soviet communism is a fascinating page-turner that will appeal to a worldwide readership.”--Jules Koslow

“Konstantin’s memoir is a gut-wrenching portrayal of his boyhood in Stalin’s Soviet Union before and during World War II. It should be required reading for every high school student in the United States.”--Elizabeth Fuller

Kirkus Reviews
A boy's-eye view of life during wartime-first the Soviet Union's vicious internal struggles under Stalin and then its horrific ordeal after the Germans invaded in 1941. Konstantin begins his memoir in dramatic fashion, recalling the night of April 17, 1938, when his father was taken away by the Soviet secret police and never seen again in their little town in the Ukraine. The early passages of the book do a fine job of explaining the climate in which such an incident could occur; Konstantin describes an Orwellian regime full of furtive police activities, mysterious disappearances and a terrorized populace. What makes Konstantin's recollections so captivating is his ability to effectively divide the text between small details vividly rendered, such as a trip to the movie theater, and the larger story of a global political and military struggle. Despite the upheavals that roiled his childhood, the author somehow managed to get a decent education; he refers frequently to inspirational teachers and to devouring books ranging from The Grapes of Wrath to Das Kapital. But these moments of enlightenment in Konstantin's young life were tempered by the unbearable wartime conditions; often, as he left school for the day, he saw corpses piled high on wagons to be carted away. His mother married a Polish refugee in 1944, and they were able to return with him to Poland in 1945, happy to escape the "cursed" Soviet Union. But the Soviets soon consolidated their grip on Poland, and the family fled west, finally winding up in a UN refugee camp in Germany. As a displaced person, Konstantin qualified for free tuition at a local university, and after three more years of struggle was finally able to emigrateto "the land of my dreams"-America. Uneven, but full of engaging details about a tumultuous period in world history.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826217875
  • Publisher: University of Missouri Press
  • Publication date: 4/8/2008
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

In 1949, upon graduation from the Technical University of Munich in Germany, Anatole Konstantin immigrated to the United States and continued his study of engineering at Columbia University. He founded PDC International Corporation and lives in Connecticut.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 22, 2010

    Through the Eyes of a Child

    If you had to choose only one book to read this year, it should be Anatole Konstantin's, A Red Boyhood. It is not just a stirring memoir written from a child's recollections and perspective, it is also an adventure of escape, first from Stalin's ruthless brutality, followed by threatened persecution with Hitler's invasion in 1941. It is a true, modern-day political drama depicting how the lives of good, law-abiding, ordinary people, and millions like them, were affected by supression, and how those seemingly ordinary people became remarkable through their determination to survive their tormentors. But, A Red Boyhood is also a great love story of how a fearsome and the powerful bond of familial love fostered a little boy's courage. At the book's end, after following the hardships of Mr. Konstantin, his toddler brother and their brave and determined mother, one realizes, too, something that is not obvious at the beginning of this mesmerizing tale: it is a tribute to his mother, Rachel's (Raya's) spirit, her unyielding quest to find the husband that was wrenched from his bed in the middle of the night, and her courageous struggle to protect and make a life for her children. After starting this book I couldn't put it down. It is an inspiring story that all who have loved a child will want to read. It is a history of our violent past that generations to come must never forget.

    Agata Stanford, author of Dorothy Parker Mysteries.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2008

    Amazing book

    This is a poignant and amazing story of survival. The writer's memory is a blessing for all of us to relive his true tale of natural heroism under Stalinist Russia. I marveled at how his fate hung in the balance at so many moments and how the spark of a thought or connection to a particular person utterly changed the fates over and over again of the little boy and his family. This would make a riveting movie.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 17, 2010

    A Journey Beyond History - personal, powerful, gripping, and touching .........

    A whole lifetime of struggle is packed into the twenty years recounted in A Red Boyhood as it steps beyond a history of the time, reaching through the everyday reality of life in a communist land . Konstantin's story is rich with details of everyday life, attitudes, traditions, and determination allowing readers to see a time where so much was hidden - glimpsing bits and pieces which could only be know by someone who had lived those days, in that place. Details of the family's journey across so much of Russia was graphic. but there occasions for the heart to dance with each small happiness, too.
    Congratulations, Anatole. Your recollections, your insight, your book are gifts to all who read these pages and we will be enriched by them. They stand as a lasting legacy to those who lived the struggle, endured, continued, and to those who did not.
    The author's inclusion of the thoughts, the feelings of those who made this journey allow the next generations to glimpse the essence of the people who came before and to better understand.

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