“Koba the Dread is filled with passion and intelligence, and with prose that gleams and startles. . . .This fierce little book. . . [has the] power to surprise, and ultimately to provoke, enrage and illuminate.” –San Jose Mercury News
“Koba the Dread is heartfelt. . . . Amis does not shrink from difficult questions about possible moral distinctions between Lenin and Stalin, Stalin and Hitler.” –San Francisco Chronicle
“Riveting. . . .Martin Amis has a noble purpose in writing Koba the Dread. He wants to call attention to just what an insanely cruel monster Josef Stalin was.” –Seattle Times
“Martin Amis is our inimitable prose master, a constructor of towering English sentences, and his life…is genuinely worth writing about.” –Esquire
Martin Amis's Koba the Dread began as a modest 60-page pamphlet, a small-scale "political memoir plus a shot at amateur historiography on Bolshevism." Gradually the essay evolved into a moving portrait of his father's shifting political allegiances and his own relationship with Kingsley Amis's views. How did one of the most gifted novelists and intellectuals of his time become ensnared, like so many others in his generation, by the false hopes of communism? How could Stalin, the killer of 20 million people, have served as a beacon for anyone? With the attentiveness of a detective and the care of a close relative, Martin Amis examines the answers and, then, the new questions that they raise.
Where Amis is at his best is using his arsenal of literary skills to create
a compelling narrative, summarizing vast amounts of information and
presenting it in a lucid, accessible form.
When the historian Robert Conquest was asked in the post-Gorbachev years to give a new title to a revised edition of "The Great Terror," his classic 1968 account of the murderous Stalin era, he said to his publisher, "How about 'I Told You So, You Fucking Fools'?" Rarely has such smugness been so deeply earned. There had been many fools who dismissed Conquest as a dupe. In this meditation, the novelist Martin Amis sets out to recall the moral and intellectual blindness that allowed so many to ignore the millions of corpses and the camps, and his heroic voices include Conquest (to whom the book is dedicated), Solzhenitsyn, Koestler, and Akhmatova. "Koba the Dread" is a vivid, if often eccentric, rereading of those authors; the frequent instances when the book veers into family memoir and homely analogy, however, are less successful. At one point, Amis writes that the nighttime cries of his baby daughter "would not have been out of place in the deepest cellars of the Butyrki Prison in Moscow during the Great Terror." As it happens, they would have.
Part biography, part memoir, the latest book from the author of The Rachel Papers and London Fields takes on the true-life drama of Joseph Stalin, known to the Russians as Koba the Dread. Back in the 1940s, Amis' father, novelist Kingsley Amis, was among those "fellow travelers" who embraced Moscow and Marxism. Amis details his father's loss of faith in the ruthless leader who once declared, "Death solves all problems. No man, no problem." The author unflinchingly examines the ways in which many English intellectuals bought into communism and gives an analysis of Stalin's life and legacy. Piling up the statistics of the dictator's purges, Amis paints a chilling portrait of evil that curdles the blood.
Everyone knows what the Holocaust was, but, Amis points out, there is no name for and comparatively little public awareness of the killing that took place in the Soviet Union between 1917 and 1933, when 20 million died under a Bolshevik regime that ruled as if waging war against its own people. Why? The U.S.S.R. was effectively a gigantic prison system that was very good at keeping its grisly secrets. Too, communism had widespread support in the rest of the world, as Amis reminds us. Not quite a memoir, this book sandwiches a lengthy treatise on the horror of life in Leninist and Stalinist Russia between Amis's brief personal takes on his gradually dawning awareness of Soviet atrocities. In his first and final pages, he deals with three generations of dupes who supported Soviet rule: that of H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw; that of novelist Kingsley Amis, the writer's father and member of the Communist Party in the 1940s; and that of leftist contemporaries of Martin Amis himself, notably the writer Christopher Hitchens. Throughout, Amis snipes at Hitchens in particular ( What about the famine?' I once asked him. There wasn't a famine,' he said, smiling slightly and lowering his gaze. There may have been occasional shortages....' ) Alexander Solzhenitsyn tried to tell the West about Stalinism in the '70s, but this grim patriarch had no appeal for the New Left, a generation interested only in revolution as play, Amis says. Most readers won't be interested in the author's private quarrels, but in the bulk of the book he relates passionately a story that needs to be told, the history of a regime that murdered its own people in order to build a better future for them. (July) Forecast: Guaranteed review coverage thanks to Amis's reputation should mean strong sales. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Why haven't Western intellectual and popular cultures demonized Joseph Stalin as they have Adolf Hitler? With this volume--part memoir, part history, part meditation--noted novelist Martin Amis examines this important subject. Russia has barely begun to come to terms with Stalin the way Germany did with Hitler after World War II. One telling ex-ample: The mayor of Moscow recently proposed reerecting a giant statue of Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the malignant founder of the U.S.S.R.'s murderous secret police, a gesture that would be the moral equivalent of Germany's putting up a statue honoring Heinrich Himmler in Berlin. (3 Mar 2003)
In some ways noted British novelist Amis has produced a wonderfully accessible and moving account of Stalin's crimes and their place in history, but this is also a personal, idiosyncratic history that might be hard for students to follow. Those of us who remember Amis' father or know who Robert Conquest is can easily relate to Amis' opening recollections of how he first got interested in the subject at hand; but students might find it an odd way to approach it. That said, the book has some key strengths: it is easy to peruse, includes a useful index, and it comes in at under 300 pages, too. While each section features some Amis reflections and side thoughts, each is also riveting because Amis is a brilliant writer and he uses a wealth of horrifying statistics and stories to make his points. My own high school students find it easy to understand what Hitler did. Stalin's story is more complicated. In fact, that very point is a key theme that Amis pursues. KLIATT Codes: ARecommended for advanced students and adults. 2002, Random House, Vintage, 306p. index., Ages 17 to adult.
This passionate and intensely personal book by novelist Amis (London Fields) evokes a terrible crime, in fact several million crimes. Koba is Joseph Stalin, the 20 million his victims. Interwoven with his impressionistic narrative (which owes much to Alexander Solzhenitsyn and the Anglo-American historian Robert Conquest) are details of Amis's family history, along with his sparring with the memory of his late father, Kingsley, and a close friend, the English journalist Christopher Hitchens, both one-time defenders of Soviet rule. Amis cuts to and from these and other personalities, throwing in details of the appalling horrors of Stalinist misrule, in a kaleidoscopic narrative flow. Who was worse: the Little Mustache (Hitler) or the Big Mustache (Stalin)? Why is the latter's evil not as widely acknowledged as the former's? Amis concludes his book with a single family death, contrasting its pathos with, in Stalin's celebrated expression, the "mere statistic" of the death of millions. A personal and polemical reaction to human and historical tragedy on both a small and a large scale, this is not an easy read. While the book reveals nothing new historiographically, it will appeal to admirers of Amis's literary panache. Robert H. Johnston, McMaster Univ., Hamilton, ON Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
The accomplished English novelist follows his first memoir (Experience, 2000) with a post-millennial backward glance at the evil 20th century and its “chief lacuna.” A child of the 1960s, now himself a half-century old, Amis treats several large and related themes. He reviews the basic facts of the terrible Soviet experiment, which he knows chiefly through having read “several yards of books” about it. Then he turns to the early devotion of his father’s generation to that experiment and their subsequent rejection of it; Kingsley Amis wrote an essay called “Why Lucky Jim Turned Right” in 1967, and his friend Robert Conquest published a history of Soviet terror. Martin’s generation embraced all things leftist during the revolutionary years of the Vietnam War and Paris Rouge, a rhetorically excessive time when “policemen and even parking wardens were called fascists.” Some of these themes have, of course, occupied English intellectuals from Orwell’s time on, but Amis brings to them a fresh look helped in its particulars by shocking revelations from now-open Soviet archives. Among the more controversial theses is his well-reasoned suggestion that Soviet Communism was, in the end, worse than Nazism: “Stalin, unlike Hitler, did his worst. . . . Bolshevism was exportable, and produced near-identical results everywhere. Nazism could not be duplicated.” Readers of The Black Book of Communism will find this argument unobjectionable, but it will certainly earn Amis a hiding in the leftist press. Particularly compelling is Martin’s closing letter to Kingsley, now dead, wondering how either father or son could have been taken in by the romantic lie of a worker’s paradise. The author is no DavidHorowitz, however; he hasn’t gone Tory in middle age, even if he takes well-deserved swipes at Christopher Hitchens and other fellow travelers while confessing his own sins. Meritorious addition to the bulging shelf of apologia by writers on the noncommunist English left, worth reading by anyone interested in exploring the dark recesses of the recent past. Author tour